Teens get a taste of renewable energy

2012-08-03 06:58

Ever thought you could produce gas or fuel from cow dung and chicken faeces?

This is what the pupils of HB Nyathi Secondary School in Daveyton on the East Rand got a taste of yesterday at the Agricultural Research Council’s Institute for Agricultural Engineering in Pretoria: that by applying renewable energy technologies we can obtain energy from renewable sources, one of those sources being human excrement.

Forget the stuff of sci-fi movies or dreams, these pupils learned about cars powered by biofuels – diesel or bioethanol (fuel) produced from plant or animal matter.

Who would have thought a little fermented manure and water in a biogas digester could produce methane to power the electrical needs of a standard house for a family of about five people? Or that a solar cooking device made from aluminium foil, cardboard and plastic covering placed in the sun could cook a meal for four?

With these applications, worrying about what might be the electricity bill at the end of the month may soon be a thing of the past as we harness the energy from the sun, wind and water that is (almost) freely available to us.

Reduced petrol prices may take a while to materialise, however, as biofuels currently cost almost twice the price of conventional fuel to produce.

Pule Sam Mokoena, a 15-year-old Grade 10 pupil, said: “Today was awesome. I learnt that I want to be a biofuel scientist (as) I hate this global warming thing.”

Mokoena conceded that part of the reason he wanted to assist in developing alternative energy sources was the fact that his mother constantly told him to turn off the lights as she felt he watched too much energy-consuming TV.

Nthabeleng Mokholo (15) said: “I didn’t know farmers were so important. They do something that’s so beneficial to the country (by producing biomass for biofuels).”

Mokholo admitted that she had never before thought about how food landed on the shelves, let alone biofuels.

The seminar formed part of the department of science and technology’s National Science Week and was aimed at sensitising students to the importance and necessity of science.

Petrus Brits, an engineer and programme manager at the institute, said: “It’s not all problems that you can solve through politics alone; some you need to solve on the groundthrough technical knowledge.”

In this regard, another pupil, Micah Mahlangu said: “Life without engineers would be hard. I’m very inspired – I could use waste to produce something.”

Mahlangu said he’d previously planned on becoming a paramedic after matric, but had become aware of more career options after the seminar.

“There are many things I can do apart from being a paramedic – we can develop many things by coming up with new ideas,” he said.

The departments of minerals and energy and agriculture had a target of obtaining 2% of fuel from biofuels during the period 2008 – 2013.

The industry is, however, still in its infancy in South Africa, according to Primrose Magama, a junior agricultural engineer at the institute.

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