Processing waste from banana production could cover more than half of the electricity needs of some regions of Ecuador, which is struggling with fossil fuel dependence and vulnerability of electricity supplies.
A team from the Technical University of Madrid (UPM), Spain, conducted a study focusing on the most banana-intense region of the South American state and found that up to 55 per cent of the region's electricity needs could be met if waste products such as stems, leaves and fruit not fit for selling were processed by a biomass power plant. In addition to that, Ecuador could cover up to 10 per cent of its bioethanol needs using banana waste.
The analysis focused on the region of El Oro, where more than 25 per cent of Ecuador’s banana-producing land is concentrated. With 224,137 hectares of land used for banana cultivation, Ecuador is the world’s number one banana exporter, serving 29 per cent of the global banana market.
However, the country has limited procedures in place to deal with the large amounts of agricultural waste that comes with banana production. In fact, for every tonne of marketable fruit, the sector produces two tonnes of inedible biomass. In addition to that, between eight and 20 per cent of fruit has to be thrown out as it doesn’t meet required quality standards. The fruit waste is sometimes fed to animals. The inedible biomass is usually left to rot on fields or open dumps.
The UPM research found that in regions with such high density of banana production as El Oro, building a banana-biomass power plant would make solid economic sense as the waste would only have to be transported across very short distances. The analysis estimated that two power plants would be enough to serve the region’s farmers with no one needing to transport their waste for more than 20km.
The two power plants would serve 38,604 hectares of El Oro’s 59,914 total of banana-producing land. Overall, the plants would process 190,102 tons of discarded bananas and 198,602 tons of inedible biomass per year, producing 19 million litres of bioethanol and providing up to 18 megawatts of electrical power.
Heavily dependent on fossil fuels, Ecuador is currently undergoing an overhaul of its energy sector funded by the Inter-American Development Bank. Banana energy could provide another option to diversify the country's energy resources.
When extrapolated, the technology could make a difference in the energy sectors of other banana-producing countries, which are largely situated in the developing areas of Asia and America.