Determining the feasibility of harvesting invasive alien plant species for energy
Keywords:woody biomass, invasive alien plants, biomass energy, externalities, financial cost, economic feasibility
Woody invasive alien plants (IAPs) are a threat to South Africa’s water resources, biodiversity and land productivity. The impacts of IAPs were the main reason for the South African government to embark on a natural resource management public works programme called Working for Water (WfW), which was aimed at controlling IAPs in a cost-effective yet labour-intensive way. At the same time, the high biomass of these species presents opportunities for synergies between the clearing of IAPs and the generation of biomass-based energy. The purpose of this study was to determine the cost of harvesting and extracting, chipping, and transporting the biomass, and also to determine the financial and economic feasibility of such an exercise from a commercial perspective. Sampling of the biomass was done at 31 representative sites within the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa. The cost of the operation was carefully monitored, documented and reported at each stage, and compared to the cost of replacing the thermal coal currently used by industry within this municipality. The project proved to be financially viable, but only when the energy entrepreneur forms a partnership with the WfW programme, and then only under specific conditions. The project has, however, very high socio-economic returns with respect to a reduction in environmental externalities and job creation.
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