Weighing up the opportunities for rural value chains

Will the BIO4Africa technologies create long-term value? DRAXIS is conducting the life cycle assessments that will help to find out.

From peanut shells to livestock manure, farmers are delivering many types of agricultural waste to the BIO4Africa pilot production sites. But, of all the new revenue opportunities the bio-based technologies create, which ones are the most sustainable – socially, economically and environmentally?

Greece-based DRAXIS is responsible for conducting life cycle assessments (LCAs) of the production processes and the related value chain at each location.

Technologies in context
“Our main focus is the technologies in the field – the green biorefineries, the pyrolysis, pelletising, briquetting and hydrothermal carbonisation technologies and existing local technologies,” says Christina Tsouti, circular economy associate at DRAXIS.

“We’re also taking local parameters into consideration, for example the local energy supply, transportation, market access and equipment costs.

“It’s always the surrounding context that’s important. For example, the Grassa biorefinery installed in Uganda and Ghana is a well-studied technology in Europe. But, in a rural African context, it’s still quite unknown.”

Data-driven research
The first task is to gather primary data from the technology providers and operators – the data must then be validated before it can be used.

Once all the technologies are installed, work on the actual LCAs will begin. This will include analysing the sustainable value of the products, such as the opportunities to use locally produced protein concentrate from the biorefineries to replace imported soya in animal feed. The conversion of agricultural residues into biochar for water purification is another example.

Christina hopes the results from the LCAs will be of use to development projects beyond the BIO4Africa project.

“The purpose of the LCAs is to reveal the potential of a whole value chain to support local people in obtaining a better income with low environmental impact.

“When integrated in business models, LCAs contribute to a broad picture of whether investments in a specific technology will help to develop a rural area and make people’s lives easier.”

The preliminary LCA report is expected in December this year and will be followed up by a final report at the end of the project.

What is life cycle assessment?

Life cycle assessment considers a product’s full life cycle: from the extraction of resources, through production, use, and recycling, up to the disposal of remaining waste. LCA studies help to avoid resolving one environmental problem while creating others. LCA is therefore a powerful decision support tool necessary to make consumption and production more sustainable.

Source: The Life Cycle Initiative