Saint Lucia: Bananas as a Renewable Energy Source?

A 2011 blogpost on the use of bananas in the creation of biofuel has inspired Dane Gibson to ask some questions about the renewable energy sector in the small Caribbean country of Saint Lucia.

In The Power of Bananas, Laura Eco had outlined an energy enterprise project:

The project is being implemented by Applied Renewables Caribbean and aims to use the waste generated by St Lucia’s banana trade to produce environmentally friendly energy. At the same time, it will enable local banana farmers to supplement their income by selling the waste from their crops.

Banana tree

Bananas As A Renewable Energy Source?
Image: MrTopher Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a post on Facebook page St Lucians Aiming for Progress- S.L.A.P on 13 October 2012, he asked:

Dr Anthony recently stated that many persons had come knocking on his door with presentations of renewable energy initiatives. What steps has government taken to follow-up and do the necessary due diligence to entertain energy alternatives in St Lucia? What steps is the government going to take to alleviate the volatility in the electricity prices to make it more attractive to foreign investors? With the scheduled closing of the Hess Refinery would it be possible to look into turning part of the refinery into an energy renewable plant of some sort seeing that nothing new is being presented to St Lucians. Just a few suggestions to explore to get the life blood of the nation pumping again.

Jimmy Fletcher, who is currently Saint Lucia's  Minister for the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, responded to Gibson first by addressing the work of Applied Renewables Caribbean, the company referenced in the blogpost:

The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology has been working with Mr. Ken Aldonza to move this excellent initiative along. I visited his plant in Vieux Fort over four months ago, and following that visit my ministry has been working with Mr. Aldonza to try to secure additional funding for his project. As Minister for Energy I also wrote to the National Development Corporation, NDC, to try to secure one of NDC's empty factory shells at a rent-free or rent-subsidised rate so that Ken Aldonza could shift his operations to a more spacious and convenient location.

Fletcher gave assurance that the government was working to expand the renewable energy sector and promised to report on the progress made :

At some point in the near future we will provide greater detail on the actions that we have taken to encourage the development of a renewable energy sector and to encourage the use of more energy-efficient devices and appliances. So, rest assured, there is much going on to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for energy and to ultimately reduce the cost of electricity for Saint Lucians.

In a comment Nadia Cauzabon suggested that the government look to biogas as an alternative fuel for farmers:

The Power of Pig Poo: Two models of low-cost biogas digesters have been piloted in Saint Lucia in Soufriere, Dennery, Laborie, VFort and Micoud. The gas produced can be used for generating electricity for a farm or tied to the grid, lighting, for cooking and even to ripen bananas. Minister Jimmy Fletcher, I would like the ministry to assist farmers who already have digesters installed utilize the gas to produce electricity.

She pointed out that biogas could also be used domestically:

The ministry can also even explore use of digesters for households. We have the know how in the Caribbean in Jamaica where CASE converted the septic tank for a boys school into a digester and the gas was used for cooking. In the 1990's a GTZ project piloted steel-dome type digesters. One farmer in Bois D'Orange used the gas produced for cooking at his home. In the last two years he decommissioned his digester and had to purchase a tank of cooking gas for the first time in over 15 years.

Cauzabon also implored the government to make sure that farms don't pose a risk to public health:

Also, I would like your ministry and ministry of Agriculture mandate all pig/animal farms MUST have some form of waste management (digester, compost or otherwise) to clean up the waterways in Saint Lucia. The levels of faecal bacteria in some rivers are off the charts and pose a significant health risk to human lives. Some communities have a real problem with gastro-intestinal cases which is most probably directly linked to poor potable water quality.

In responding to Cauzabon, Fletcher expressed regret that more progress hadn't been made in this area:

Nadia, it is unfortunate that we have not made more progress with biodigesters. When I worked in the Research and Development Division in the Ministry of Agriculture (1990s) there was a lot of interest in both biodigesters and solar dryers and there was quite a bit of work going on in the region on improving the technologies. I remember the GTZ project in the 1990s and also the work done by Professor Clem Sankat and others at UWI on solar dryers. Two years ago, when I was at the OECS, I started a dialogue with UNIDO on assisting with the manufacturing of solar dryers in Saint Lucia. All of this is to say that I agree with you that we have to explore all practicable applications of renewable/sustainable energy and provide support for the uptake of these technologies. In the case of biodigesters, you are absolutely correct, they have the added positive benefit of assisting with the vexing issue of waste management on the farm.

While happy with the possibilities for the development of biofuel, Jana Auguste is concerned about its sustainability:

while I am thrilled that renewable energy initiatives live in SLU, as a sustainability wonk, I remain apprehensive about the use of food as bio-fuel feedstock for reasons I hope are obvious…, cost etc.

Former Minister of Agriculture, Ignatius Jean also has some questions about this possible initiative:

Good idea. However, now that the banana is no longer “green gold” how do you propose to attract former producers back into production of bananas for methane? What price will the banana and all its parts thereof, receive from the energy generation plant? This is not about romanticism. Currently the generating capacity of LUCELEC is upwards of 66 Kw, what are the targeted projections by this new idea?

Much like Jana Auguste, Jean is concerned about the sustainability of biofuel production and sees other sources of renewable energy as preferable:

Given the high cost of production of bananas and the consequent and attendant risks and “bad practices of production” I have more more confidence in geothermal, solar and wind.

1 comment

  • Shahed Israil Khan

    What parts of theBanana plant is being used in the digester?Are u missing out other items which can be used in the digestion process like algae,seaweeds etc?

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