Palm oil for rural electrification


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Gemena is a rural region located in the North of DR Congo, which relies heavily on agriculture for its economic growth. With an electrification rate of 1,39%, one of the lowest in the country, and high fuel prices, there are few opportunities for small businesses and local enterprises to thrive. SNV is piloting the use of palm oil for rural electrification to improve access to energy and boost local development.

PPO, or pure plant oil, is obtained from the transformation of crude palm oil (CPO). Its easy fabrication and convenient storage make it a promising choice for biofuel promotion in the region. Many of the 700 hectares of palm plantations which used to green up Gemena are now abandoned. There is strong potential to revive the production of palm oil in Gemena without stripping forest cover or negatively impacting food security. Though the use of PPO does require a minor modification of engines, it is an easy and cheap procedure that can be performed by local mechanics.

The pilot project operates on three levels: the transformation of palm oil into biofuel, the adaptation of engines to process biofuels, and community based management of a mini grid supplying electricity to a small neighbourhood of Gemena. Results so far:

  • 4 diesel engines have been adapted to run on PPO (= cost saving);
  • 2 SMEs are now fully equipped to produce CPO and PPO from palm oil;
  • A cooperative has been established and has obtained legal permission to manage the mini-grid which powers the community;
  • 72 households are now connected to the mini-grid and are supplied with affordable, reliable and clean electricity; this corresponds to a total of about 430 electricity users.

This project aims to demonstrate the technical and economic viability of producing electricity with quality PPO made from palm oil. With the viability of the concept now demonstrated, SNV is looking for partners to scale up this approach in order to contribute to local development, boost local economy, reduce forest degradation and improve access to energy.

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