Burning fuelwood contributes to the devastating environmental problems of deforestation and global warming. People suffer directly, too: 1.4 million deaths every year are due to smoke related ill-health. An entrepreneur in Ghana has created a practical solution by redesigning LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) stoves to suit local cooking pots and securing support from a finance company to help households invest in more efficient, clean-burning stoves.
Ghana’s Energy Supplies
Though it possesses some reserves, Ghana consumes more than five times as much oil as it produces. Most (95 per cent) of the electricity produced in Ghana is generated from hydropower schemes, with the combustion of fossil fuels supplying the balance. Ghana is, however, a net importer of electricity.
Meanwhile, a vital fuel for the majority of the population is biomass: around 96 per cent of the population is dependent upon energy derived fromplant materials and agricultural waste. With 75 per cent of these people burning fuelwood for domestic cooking and water heating, this is by far the most significant type of biomass in use. Currently, it is estimated that each person uses around 1 cubic metre or 640 kg of fuelwood per annum.
Although wood as biomass is often considered as a renewable energy source, this only holds true if trees are replanted. By mass, forest growth in Ghana is less than half of fuelwood demand. By this token, fuelwood becomes an unsustainable energy option.
Ghana – economy and environment
In 1957 Ghana became the first country in colonial Africa to regain independence. Blessed with bountiful natural resources, Ghana has around double the economic output of neighbours such as Cote d’Ivoire, Togo and Burkina Faso. Nevertheless, since independence Ghana has declined economically. At least 30 per cent of the almost twenty-one million Ghanaians live below the poverty line, while unemployment exceeds 20 per cent of the workforce. The country is highly dependent on international assistance and, with 80 per cent of the population resident in rural areas, subsistence agriculture persists as the mainstay of the economy. It employs, in fact, roughly 60 per cent of the potential workforce and accounts for more than one-third of Gross Domestic Product. Ghana’s biggest exports are gold, timber and cocoa, while important industries include mining, forestry, food processing and light industry. Ghana’s export ‘partners’ are predominantly countries of the European Union. Significant imports include capital equipment and petrol.
In common with many African nations, the domestic environmental problems that Ghana faces include drought, deforestation and soil erosion. Internationally, Ghana is party to environmental agreements on biodiversity, climate change and desertification.
In terms of the ‘Greenhouse Effect’, fuelwood is considered carbon dioxide neutral. That is, it takes as much carbon dioxide to grow wood as it releases when burned.
The Greenhouse Problem
The ‘Greenhouse Effect’ is the result of gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that act like a blanket, trapping the warmth of the sun in. Naturally, the more gas there is the thicker the blanket and hence the warmer the Earth. Unfortunately, emissions of carbon dioxide have increased to critical proportions in the modern era due to human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuel for industrial purposes. Hence, the life-giving Greenhouse Effect has become the life-threatening Greenhouse Problem: global warming and climate change are issues that demand to be taken seriously.
It is not so much the magnitude of warming that is the problem as the rate at which it is taking place. At the current rate many fragile ecosystems would be endangered. Changes in rainfall patterns will lead to flooding in some countries, drought and desertification in others. Flooding could literally wash vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh off the map. Changes in regional climate will threaten biodiversity and species balance with potentially disastrous effects as, for example, insect pests multiply much faster than their natural predators.
Despite the carbon neutrality of fuelwood combustion, deforestation in Ghana means the country is a contributor to the Greenhouse Problem. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that traditional cooking stoves are extremely inefficient. It is calculated that traditional Ghanaian stoves are actually less than 10 per cent efficient. In other words, 90 per cent of the wood and its heat is wasted while 90 per cent of the associated carbon dioxide emissions are the result of human activity that benefits no one at all!
Furthermore, the stoves produce smoke that, in often poorly ventilated dwellings, is harmful to health, leading as it does to respiratory and eye problems. In its report ‘Smoke: The Killer in the Kitchen’ the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) estimates that 1.6 million deaths a year are the result of smoke-related complaints. This death toll is greater than that of malaria and translates to a life lost every 20 seconds.
LPG – a cleaner, greener fuel
Aware of the problems associated with burning fuelwood, Ghanaian society is looking for cleaner and greener alternatives. One of these is liquid or liquefied petroleum gas, LPG, which the government is promoting. A by-product of crude oil refining, LPG is the generic name for compressed hydrocarbon gases, typically butane and propane. When compressed, butane and propane condense to liquids that can be ‘bottled’ – stored in pressurised metal cylinders. Due to its high calorific value LPG is particularly suitable for cooking, heating and lighting in the home. It is, moreover, relatively easy to store and to transport to remote areas. And from environmental point of view, although it is derived from a fossil fuel, LPG emits much less carbon dioxide when burned than either coal or oil. Indeed, gas is often touted as the transitional fuel that will lead the world towards the solar economy, where genuinely renewable sources such as wind and solar provide most of the energy required by the world’s people.
The refinery gas from which LPG can be derived is often burned or flared. Though this gas may be only around 2 per cent of the total mass of a batch of crude oil, it is obviously wasteful to burn such a high calorie fuel to no end. Typically, moreover, flaring flue gas accounts for 25 per cent of a refinery’s emissions of carbon dioxide oil to the atmosphere. Reduction in gas flaring could therefore help Ghana contribute towards its national greenhouse gas reduction targets set under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The people running Tema oil refinery in Ghana realised that they could prevent this waste of energy and reduce and pollution, while also providing an alternative to scarce fuelwood for urban dwellers. In addition, of course, they would open up a new market for themselves with the potential of increased profits. So they took steps to recover the refinery gas, compress and bottle it for distribution as LPG. The refinery even gave away free stoves to encourage the uptake of LPG use. Unfortunately, these stoves were of a European design and unsuitable for use with the traditional rounded pots favoured by most Ghanaians, so the market for LPG stalled.
Transformation of technology
Often it is not technical knowledge that is the problem when is comes to persuading people to accept a new way of doing things. Ghanaian entrepreneur Prosper Gatti realised that people were not rejecting LPG as a fuel but rather the stoves because they did not fit with the cooking culture. With the benefit of hindsight the solution, like most bright ideas, seems obvious: make the LPG stoves look like traditional wood-burning stoves and make sure they can accommodate the popular rounded pans. However, a bright idea is, unfortunately, not enough on its own. The bottom line was that Prosper and the company he formed, Translegacy, needed money to develop the idea, to make and test prototype stoves and to market the final product. Prosper found that most of the banks and other financial institutions were very conservative and reluctant to take a risk on a new business with a new and unproven product.
Prosper therefore turned to the United Nations Environment Programme’s African Rural Energy Enterprise Development (AREED) initiative. The initiative seeks ‘to develop new sustainable energy enterprises that use clean, efficient, and renewable energy technologies to meet the energy needs of under-served populations, thereby reducing the environmental and health consequences of existing energy use patterns.’ AREED were able tooffer Translegacy seed finance and business support services to get the LPG stove idea off the ground. And of course AREED’s support makes the conventional lenders less wary of new enterprises and they are encouraged to come on board. AREED also facilitated technical support via the Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment.
Success and Spin-offs
Now there is an LPG distribution centre on the outskirts of the Ghanaian capital, Accra. Translegacy’s stoves are in use in restaurants and throughout the city. The investment cost of an LPG stove and cylinder remains, though, a real obstacle to further growth of the market in the residential sector. AREED is therefore helping to finalise a business plan for a financing scheme that will help households afford this initial outlay. They will then be able to make the switch to a fuel that is, in the number of ways discussed, more environmentally friendly. AREED will assist in the design of the financing scheme as well as providing working capital for its launch. The Initiative will then assist in identifying local sources of capital and may also act a guarantor for any loan in order that the business can obtain the finance to develop further.
Meanwhile, a third Ghanaian entrepreneur has spotted an LPG opportunity. Seth Kobla Nanemeh of Anasset Limited anticipated the demand for LPG from vehicle owners. Petrol engines can be converted to run on LPG relatively easily. And apart from burning more cleanly, LPG is generally cheaper that petrol. Seth found a site and established his filling station. But despite his business plan and good bookkeeping the banks rejected his request for a start-up loan, With an initial loan from AREED, however, Seth invested in a gas tank and a pump to fuel vehicles. Paying back the loan to AREED is likely to give Anasset enhanced credibility when it comes to approaching the banks as the business needs to expand. Which, judging by demand, will be in the not too distant future.
LPG (propane or butane) burns more safely and efficiently than wood in a domestic setting, but like all solutions it brings some hazards to those not familiar with its properties.
It is a colourless liquid which readily evaporates into a gas. It has no smell, although it will normally have an odour added to help detect leaks. It can burn or explode when it is mixed with air and it meets a source of ignition. It is heavier than air, so it tends to sink towards the ground. It can flow for long distances along the ground, and can collect in drains, gullies and cellars.
LPG is supplied in pressurised cylinders to keep it liquefied. The cylinders are strong and not easily damaged, although the valve at the top can be vulnerable to impact. Leaks can occur from valves and pipe connections, most likely as a gas. LPG liquid can cause cold burns to the skin.
- Keep rubbish and anything combustible well away, and keep weeds and grass in the vicinity cut down.
- Don’t use chlorate-based weedkiller, as it can be a fire hazard.
- Don’t let anyone have any electrical equipment, vehicles, bonfires, barbecues or other sources of ignition near the cylinders. Exceptions are items purpose-designed to use LPG, such as gas-fired barbecues. Do not smoke when changing cylinders.
- Keep people not involved with the installation well away from it, particularly children.
- Keep vehicles well away from the installation.
- Make sure that the pipework or flexible hose from the cylinders to the point of use is protected against accidental damage and is properly supported. For underground piping, make sure you know the route it takes, and avoid putting anything in the ground which may damage the pipework.
- Report any equipment failure or damage to your supplier without delay, and ask them for advice about what you should do.
Fixed cylinder installations
If you have one or more cylinders fixed in position for connection to an appliance, the installer must ensure that they are located in a safe place and have all the necessary safety devices to protect the hoses, pipework and appliances attached to them. However, you need to look after the installation. For example, you should ensure the cylinders are kept secured in position and are not tampered with.
If cylinders not fixed in position, keep them in a safe, well-ventilated place, preferably in the open air, and away from occupied buildings, boundaries and sources of ignition and of heat. Make sure the cylinders are properly secured and are kept upright.
Courtesy of the LP Gas Association: www.lpga.org.uk
Thanks particularly to AREED for supplying information to the author of this case study, Kelvin Mason, and also to the LPGA for permission to use information from their website.
African Rural Energy Enterprise Development (AREED)
Partnership for Clean Indoor Air www.pciaonline.org
HEDON (Household Energy Network) www.hedon.info
People Approach: A guide to participatory household energy needs assessmentm, Vivienne Abbot, Caroline Ashley, Stephen Gitonga, Lydia Muchiri and May Sengendo, IT Kenya, 1999, ISBN: 996693
Smoke – the Silent Killer: Indoor air pollution in developing countries, Hugh Warwick and Alison Doig, ISBN: 1853395889, www.itdgpublishing.org.uk
ITDG Technical Briefs answers.practicalaction.org
Other relevant Hands On case studies
A Burning Concern
Peasants and Monarchs
Back to the Future