Mauritius turns sugar cane into electricity to help run remote island
Any parent dealing with a cake-drunk toddler can attest to the sheer energy contained in sugar. The island nation of Mauritius off the southeast coast of Africa is hoping its sugar rush doesn’t come crashing down like that toddler on the car ride home after a birthday party. Fourteen percent of Mauritius’ electricity comes from sugar cane. Combined that with wind, hydro, and solar power, and renewables make up about a quarter of the island’s energy production. The government hopes to increase that number to 35 per cent by 2025.
Most of Mauritius’ energy is supplied by petroleum imported to the island, which lies 2,000 kilometres off the African continent and has a population approaching 1.3 million. Efforts to make cane energy more prominent may be hampered by declining sugar prices, which have caused the number of country’s small farmers to halve since 2010.
“Mauritius is a small, vulnerable island. We do not have the capacity of Thailand, Brazil, and India, but we are an efficient producer because we value the entire sugar production chain,” Jacques D’Unienville, manager of Omnicane, told Phys.org. “We need protected access to preferential markets. Small countries should have quotas as a priority because we are very vulnerable.”
Omnicane and three other companies generate 60 per cent of the nation’s electricity, as each operates its own thermal power station. At harvest time, the plants switch from coal power to running on bagasse — the dry cane stalks and tips left over after juices are extracted for production. The bagasse burns at 500 degrees Celsius, fuelling turbines hooked up to the national power grid.
“Electricity is available 24 hours a day, on demand, without having to wait for the wind or the sun, since we can store bagasse as we would oil and coal,” D’Unienville said. Not only that, but the carbon dioxide put off by burning the bagasse is captured and used to add fizz to soft drinks.
With 11 solar parks and at least two wind farms operating by next year, Mauritius is on track to hit its 35 per cent renewable goal. The outlook would be a lot sweeter for Mauritius, however, if sugar prices went back up, enabling the country to produce more energy from bagasse.