The Agulhas Plain, where the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI) Alien Clearing Project is taking place, has been selected as the pilot study site to investigate the use of invasive alien plant biomass for energy.

The ABI Alien Clearing Project is coordinated by Flower Valley Conservation Trust. Through the project, around 30,000 hectares of land are being cleared of invasive alien plants every year. The project is also creating around 160 jobs for project participants. The majority of the funding was secured from the Department of Environmental Affairs, through its Land User Incentive Scheme. However, landowners and other stakeholders involved in the project are providing co-funding.

The project, currently in its third year, has resulted in a considerable amount of alien plant biomass being left in the veld. Experts believe this biomass could be used and converted to various energy products.

In order to assess this opportunity, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in a study funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs, will now investigate how much invasive alien plant biomass is available in the area. The ABI Alien Clearing Project is operating on private land across the Agulhas Plain, the region between Hermanus and De Hoop.

According to Dr William Stafford of the CSIR at the ABI Annual General Meeting held on Wednesday, 24 June, the CSIR study will also investigate the feasibility of biomass to energy projects, looking at the opportunities for local or regional energy use, versus supplying the national grid. Additional products from biomass, including heat, charcoal and biochar, will be considered.

Dr Stafford said, “There are 160 million dry tons of invasive plants standing on the landscape in South Africa. And these invasives are spreading at 10 percent per year. That’s a ten-fold increase if we do nothing.” He said that Working for Water programmes had managed to reduce that spread by one percent. “But we want zero percent growth – that’s the ideal situation.” The study will be completed by end-March 2016.

ABI, a landscape initiative working across the Overberg region, has been operating since 2003. The ABI Partnership works together to secure a productive and healthy natural environment in the area, and includes landowners, government department officials, officials from CapeNature and SANParks, and NGOs. ABI is chaired by Agri Wes-Cape President, Cornie Swart.