Thanks to bioacoustic technology and support from the UK, South Africa seeks to reduce its dependence on coal by using bioenergy extracted from sugarcane.

In an effort to address the energy challenges faced by the Republic of South Africa and transform its agricultural sector, a pioneering collaboration between the UK and the agricultural nation promises to convert sugarcane into energy on a large scale. Led by British agricultural technology company AgriSound, this revolutionary project uses bioacoustics technology and innovative hydroponic systems to increase bioenergy production, providing a sustainable and economically viable solution.

York-based agricultural bioacoustics technology specialists, AgriSound, in collaboration with the UK Agricultural Technology Center and GYO Systems in South Africa, are looking to improve sugarcane productivity through advanced pest monitoring. The project will also investigate the use of innovative hydroponic techniques to increase bioenergy production in South Africa.

With 85% of South Africa’s power generated from coal, this project has the potential to significantly impact renewable energy production in the country. AgriSound will deploy its ‘Polly’ bioacoustic insect listening technology-based device to help farmers track and eliminate destructive pests such as the Eldana stem borer. Additionally, this device helps farmers better manage pollinator populations, leading to improved crop productivity through higher pollination rates and reduced reliance on artificial pollination methods.

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The resulting data will allow for concrete actions to help farmers harvest sugarcane more abundantly and sustainably, without compromising land use for other purposes.

In addition to improving pest surveillance and pollinator management, the project will also explore expanding bioenergy production near urban areas, using low-cost hydroponic techniques. This focus will focus on Camperdown, KwaZulu-Natal, an urban area close to one of South Africa’s major sugarcane growing regions, directly benefiting disadvantaged communities in the region through comprehensive and accessible training in these technologies.

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Dr Gina Ross, OBE from the UK Agricultural Technology Centre, said: “The increased availability of sugarcane has the potential to generate bioenergy, a type of renewable energy that can replace fossil fuels.” “As biomass grows, it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere which is then released when burned, making the biomass carbon neutral. Sugarcane therefore offers huge economic and environmental benefits to South Africa. However, with crops being severely affected by pests and overuse Land under scrutiny for food and housing resources, this project aims to solve two pressing local problems in one step, working closely with local communities to provide employment and economic development.

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South Africa’s critical energy production challenges are also exacerbated by “load shedding” episodes, which often leave more than half the population without electricity due to inadequate energy infrastructure. The use of bioenergy has great potential to change the rules of the game in the country’s sustainability strategy and the need for more reliable energy sources.

The project, led by AgriSound, has been awarded a grant from Innovate UK’s African Innovation Collaboration Program for Net Zero Places.

“We are embarking on an ambitious mission to steer South Africa towards a net-zero carbon economy by improving bioenergy production,” added Casey Woodward, Founder and CEO of AgriSound. “This project is more than just an innovation in agriculture; Rather, it is about reshaping the country’s energy landscape and uplifting its people to continue doing so on their own terms. We hit the ground running this month and aim to harness nature-based solutions to revolutionize the agricultural landscape in South Africa. We hope that it will contribute to addressing the energy crisis and climate change, while achieving significant economic and social improvements, and reducing the country’s carbon footprint, all within a 12-month time frame. “AgriSound’s long-term plan aims not only to increase power generation, but also to ensure that the land remains fertile and available to meet future food and housing needs.”

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