Chocolate lovers can help power millions of African homes

Photo by Ly Le Minh on Unsplash

I love chocolate, I have to admit. But I will enjoy it even more now that I know it also is a source of renewable energy that could power millions of African homes. And I’d love to know who came up with this brilliant idea.

Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa. More than 40% of all cocoa beans come from the West African country and more than six million people work in the industry. And when the bean is harvested, there is a lot left over to be discarded- the bean shells, pod husks and cocoa sweatings (a pale yellowish liquid that drains away during fermentation).

After successful pilot projects, Ivory Coast has begun work on a biomass plant which will run on that cocoa waste, turning a turbine to generate electricity as the waste burns, BBC Future reports. The one plant alone will be West Africa’s largest and will meet electricity needs of 1.7 million people while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 4.5 million tonnes, compared with existing power sources.

Nine other similar plants also are planned, to be built in cocoa growing areas where the raw material is in ready supply.

One of the exciting things, in addition to producing more renewable energy for the country, is that the projects could improve the fortunes of its 600,000 cocoa farmers who have been increasingly turning to other occupations such as rubber or banana in order to make a living.

Alongside the opening of the new plant, the Ivorian government has also proposed a community cooperative for cocoa farmers. Groups of farmers will be able to save money and access loans, and receive dividends to support their families and businesses.

Mohammed Adow, founder of Powershift Africa, a thinktank located in Nairobi which has advised governments across Africa on energy issues, told BBC Future that the Ivory Coast initiative comes at a critical time. “Successful utilisation of these cocoa pods will not only ensure universal access to electricity, but also add value to the cocoa production value chain, in addition to other economic benefits. Job creation through collection, transportation, storage and processing of the pods will be realised. It will empower many economically.”

Ivory Coast is not the only cocoa producer to put its waste to use, BBC Future said. In Ghana, cocoa husks are already being used to generate power on a micro-scale. Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK have developed a small 5kW generator which runs off cocoa husks and which could bring power to rural areas, where only 50% of people typically have access to electricity.