There is a little island, far out into the Indian Ocean, 700 miles east of Madagascar along Africa’s eastern coast, where its location is so isolated, it is forced to be self-reliant. For this far off land it is more of an inconvenience to rely on fossil fuels than it is a benefit to use them. That is why this island nation called Mauritius has turned to its main cash-crop sugar cane for production of electricity – to wean itself off fossil fuels.
Nearly a quarter of the islands daily consumption of power is provided by renewable energy with an unbelievable 14% of Mauritius’ electricity coming from sugar cane; The rest of the 25% comes from sources such as solar, wind and hydro.
“The government’s goal is to increase the share of renewable energy in the energy mix to 35 percent by 2025,” said Ivan Collendavelloo the deputy prime minister who is also the energy minister. “The 35 percent is not far off; we will have 11 solar parks by next year and at least two wind farms.”
In Mauritius there are 4 sugar companies that generate around 60 percent of the island’s electricity. They all run their own thermal power station. When it’s sugar cane harvest season, they produce electricity with a sugarcane byproduct called “bagasse”— a dry fibrous material made from the leftover, crushed sugar cane stalks and tips. The rest of the year they run on coal.
“Independent producers in the sugar industry will continue to provide the largest share of renewable electricity from bagasse,” says Collendavelloo.
How it works:
- Huge trucks with trailers full of fresh-cut sugarcane cargo are delivered to the factory.
- 8,500 tonnes are sent daily to this facility; A total of around 900,000 tonnes for the year.
- The cane stalks are crushed and the juice within them extracted to be used for sugar production.
- Next, the stalks are soaked to extract any last bit of juice in them.
- Then the leftovers are heated to dry.
- Last but not least, once they are squashed and dried, the stalks are fed into a thermal power station where they burn at 500 degrees Celsius. This burning is what fuels the turbines that produce electricity for the plant and the national grid.
“Electricity is available 24 hours a day, on demand, without having to wait for the wind or the sun, since we can store bagasse as we would oil and coal,” said Jacques D’Unienville, Omnicane’s manager.
What’s even more amazing is that even the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas produced by the burning is used. According to D’Unienville, they capture it and use it to add the fizz to soft drinks.
Hopefully Mauritius’ energy innovations could serve as a precedent for other large-scale farming regions to follow suit. The future of our planet lies in the hands of smart resourceful thinking such as we see happening here on this little island. We have to start reverting back to our ancestral ways of using all parts of everything up. Only then will the balance of our world be restored.