Ghana’s Safisana waste-to-energy business targets Ethiopia expansion

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Friday, 20 May 2022 06:00

Safisana recycling plant
Safisana recycling plant in Accra. Photo supplied.

Safisana managing director Aart van den Beukel flies to Ethiopia next week aiming to export his waste-to-energy recycling solution currently deployed in Ghana.

The company, which is backed by the Dutch government, has been approached by an Ethiopian brewer which wants to stop using oil in its boiler system. Van den Beukel will meet city and government officials and will propose using a combination of industrial and human waste to replace it. He expects that a final decision will be taken around the end of the year.

Safisana was set up in the Netherlands in 2009 with the mission to make waste treatment affordable for governments and industries in low and middle-income countries. About 95% of all wastewater in developing countries is not treated and faecal waste is often pumped directly into the sea. At least 10% of the world’s population is estimated to consume food irrigated by wastewater, and 842,000 people worldwide die every year from poor water, sanitation and hygiene. Waste disposed of in landfills or directly into nature, meanwhile, generates carbon emissions which processing avoids.

The plant in Ghana, financed by the African Development Bank and the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs, serves a community of 250,000 people in Ashaiman in the greater Accra area. Its solution combines sanitation and waste treatment with the production of renewable energy and fertiliser. Organic waste is collected from sources such as food markets, abattoirs and food processing industries.

  • This is then mixed with waste from public toilets and households at the company’s plant and used to generate renewable energy.
  • The power is then fed into the grid of the national utility Electricity Company of Ghana.
  • The plant currently produces 1,200 megawatt hours of renewable energy per year.

Organic fertilisers

The company provides an alternative to high-tech and often expensive waste processing. Safisana plans to scale up operations in Ghana and is talking to cities to work out the best places to go. “If you want to have an impact,”  van den Beukel says, “you have to become a bigger player.”

The plant also produces about 91,000 kilograms of fertiliser per year. Increased interest in organic fertilisers may be one consequence of the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia accounts for 14% of global fertiliser exports, which have been suspended. Prices of inorganic fertilisers have surged globally as oil and gas have climbed, along with raw materials such as ammonia, nitrogen, nitrates, phosphates, and potash. Research from the University of Ghana has shown that the use of organic fertiliser can increase crop yields by over 20%.

  • The company has also held discussions with a view to operating in Uganda. It will need to raise money for its plans.
  • Safisana needs to get private-sector backing so that the Dutch government is not left with the whole bill.
  • The business model will always need a combination of public and private funding, van den Beukel  says. “It’s a public waste problem. It can’t just be solved with private money.”

Bottom line

Safisana is showing that energy transition in developing countries can be combined with improved waste treatment.

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