The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews

ConocoPhillips

2009 Finalist

The Cheetah Conservation Fund Bush Project

The Cheetah Conservation Fund Bush Project

Protecting the future

Approximately 14% of Namibia (25 million hectares) is now seriously infested with an overgrowth of thornbush species.  Over past decades human activities such as grazing, fencing and wild fire suppression have caused a severe loss of grassland and productive farmland through a process called ‘bush encroachment’. Mostly various species of thorn bush, these plants have progressively entered then dominated these lands, severely changing the habitat. An acacia thornbush can consume up to 7 times the water of a desirable fodder species. This change in the water cycle increases the probability of an artificial drought event, a particular worry for a low-rainfall country like Namibia. The transformation from savanna to thick bush changes the mix of food available for wild animals, changes local soil temperature (affecting seed germination patterns) and ultimately changes the type of grass or bushes that thrive. Even the overall fertility of soil can change after the arrival of invader bush species. In short, bush encroachment causes widespread, severe, and negative impacts on the habitat.

For marquee predators such as the cheetah, bush encroachment causes specific habitat changes that affect their ability to survive. Since cheetah hunt using bursts of speed to overcome prey, the presence of thick bush hinders their ability to successfully hunt.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) developed the Bush Project to encourage habitat restoration by creating a viable market for biomass products derived in environmentally and socially appropriate means. In 2001 CCF Bush Pty Ltd was established to harvest and process invader bush and to manufacture and market wood fuel logs and other products from the excess thornbush.

CCF Bush produces fuel logs by an extrusion process. Wood extrusion is the process of joining biomass together by the use of pressure and heat, causing the lignin, cellulose and hemicelluloses in the product to form a natural binder. The logs manufactured through this process are internationally approved as a clean burning fuel for smokeless zones. They are natural products, contain no additives, are clean and are easy to handle.  CCF Bush also provides raw woodchip to companies for other uses.

CCF also collaborated with a study, NAMBIO-PROJECT, within the Namibian Department of Forestry and sponsored by the Finnish government regarding the feasibility of a 5-20MW biomass electric power plant, biogas production, and co-firing at least one of the boilers currently providing electricity in Namibia. CCF is planning to install a 100-200KW biomass power plant to provide clean fuel for CCF’s field station.  Given that approximately 10 metric tons of excess wood biomass are available per hectare of bush encroached land, there is sufficient raw material available for many power plants. Namibia is facing a serious power crisis, and biomass-powered electrical plants can be an extremely important source of clean, relatively inexpensive power.

Bush encroachment is a serious problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa, East Africa and other parts of the world.  The Bush project can be replicated easily anywhere invasive woody plants are available.  One of the purposes of the Bush project is to be a working example of how invasive bush can be utilized, and thus provide jobs and income in poverty-stricken areas.  When the biomass-fuelled electrical power plant is up and running, it will be used to show the Namibian government that the technology is workable.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has a shortage of power plants, but an ever-increasing supply of invasive woody plants that is destroying habitats,” says Dr. Bruce Brewer, general manager of CCF’s Bush Pty Ltd.  “Using this readily available source of biomass to make energy is an inexpensive way to solve two problems at once.”

CCF is currently seeking funds to implement the biomass-powered system.  More than just a source of power to the plant, the system will be used as an example to the Namibian government that biomass-fuelled generators are a viable, inexpensive source of clean energy.  The prize money from St Andrews would be designated for the costs associated with installing the biomass-fuelled electrical generator.

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