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Ford to take its Silverton plant off the grid

Plans to launch first phase of its succulent-powered renewable energy plan next year.
Cactus plants grown by farmers in and around Pretoria will supply the material for the biomass plant as Ford works to enhance its energy security. Image: Moneyweb

The Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa will next year launch the first phase of a four-year renewable energy plan with the intention of making its Silverton production plant completely self-sufficient for all its energy needs.

Its MD Neale Hill confirmed this on Tuesday at the launch of the Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Read: R3.5bn to be invested in first phase of Tshwane’s Automotive SEZ

Hill said Ford will be building a biomass plant on a parcel of land that has been identified for this purpose on its site in Silverton in Pretoria.

He said it will be a cactus plant operation, with the organic product grown to supply the material for the biomass plant.

Jobs for farmers

“This is actually part of the indirect jobs that we will be creating,” he added. “We will have farmers who will be establishing a crop that we will be using to run our biomass plant. It will be grown in and around the Pretoria area.”

Hill said energy security and the challenges around this is the key element of the rationale behind the project.

“In the spirit of going further, we are cognisance of the need for green initiatives that contribute towards sustainability. This green project will not only make our plant more environmentally friendly but also create more direct and indirect jobs,” he said.

The biomass facility will be a dedicated plant to provide for Ford’s energy needs, with electricity fed directly into the plant rather than into the electricity grid.

He said the operation of the biomass plant will be outsourced to another company, which will be working with Ford on the project.

Hill declined to name the company or comment on the investment Ford will be making in the project or the number of direct or indirect jobs it expects to be created.

Green trends

Ford’s green energy project follows Volkswagen Group South Africa (VWSA) confirming last month that it is poised to implement a plan to move its manufacturing plant in Uitenhage, plus some of its component suppliers in an adjacent supplier park, off the national electricity grid.

Read: VW to take its Uitenhage plant off the grid

Thomas Schaefer, chair and MD of VWSA, said a planned project involving the company investing in a R3.5 billion biogas facility that uses organic waste to produce electricity is in its final phase and the Uitenhage plant will be off the electricity grid in the next two to three years.

BMW South Africa was the local automotive pioneer in this field. In October 2015 it started receiving power from biogas renewable energy company Bio2Watt from its first plant at a Beefcor feedlot in Bronkhorstspruit, which at the time was the first viable commercial biogas project in South Africa.

The establishment of the Tshwane Automotive SEZ next to Ford’s Silverton plant will facilitate its vision of doubling its production to 200 000 vehicles a year in the next three to four years as part of a journey to become the largest Ford Ranger manufacturing facility in the world.

Thailand is currently the largest Ford Ranger producer in the world.

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VW is also building a biomass plant near Port Elizabeth.

Nope, that is anearobic digestion of waste materials.

This sounds like a biomass burning plant? or a sugar to fuel?

Cactus does not have enough nitrogen to be used solely in anaerobic digestion.

Can we afford to take prime arable food producing land off the grid?

Yes we can. There is lot’s of food. You just have to pay for it and it is yours.

This so-called government is sitting on at least 4500 unproductive farms & who knows how many million of acres of land it handed to all kinds of Kings & Chiefs & you worry about that. If Eskom would have been a reliable supplier this wouldn’t happen in the first place. Good on you VW, Ford, BMW.

LOL – you are going so green with the biomass plant but you still emit carbon dioxide when you burn it ne ???

Burning methane emits only about a third of the carbon dioxide compared with coal. It is regarded as a very eco-friendly fuel.


sooo methane produced throught this long process can compete with methane from Mozambique?

@ Dougalan, it is actually not clear whether this Silverton biomass energy plant is going to use dried cactuses and burns this to produce electricity, or let it rot, under anaerobic condition in order to produce methane, natural or bio gas that is burned for electricity production.The latter process being probably the cleanest. The sludge remaining in the fermentation tanks can be reused as fertiliser, to all keep it sustainable. Organic waste ( household food waste, agricultural and industrial biomass) can be used sustainably to produce methane. To really produce bio fuels (wood, ethanol and methane) in an environmentally sustainable and economically viable way is not easy, and IMHO, these should only form a minor part of a clean renewable energy mix.
Wind and solar (PV and CSP+TS) are much more direct and profitable ways to produce affordable, clean power.
We must above all here in SA, get Gov completely out of the energy sector. Eskom must be liquidated ASAP, and 3 or 4 private energy companies must take over the existing power stations at any price, till they have built new generation capacity. Another private company can run the grid, the transmission part. As this is a monopoly, maybe Gov can still have a 45% max share in this entity.
The whole energy sector has to be deregulated, liberalised and privatised. This has happened in many west European countries.
We should be able to have our own solar rooftop system, and feed back when we do not need it, get our power from a local mini grid, or buy it from the 3 or 4 big energy companies that supply the national grid.

Stick to growing mielies. Where do you think the carbon in the mielies come from?

But. But what about Eskom loosing a paying customer? Don’t Eskom need money? Lovely money?

nothing wrong with it, action like this should be a massive wake-up call for eskom, but at this stage i don’t think they are at all capable of making any decent / reasonable interpretations of what is happening around them due to their pathetic management level capabilities.

Excellent thinking and a slap in the face for Eskom.

Perhaps they could begin the production of an EV model named Ford Cactus? 5% commission on this suggestion please, Ford!

In a normal world taking load away from Eskom should reduce the probability of load shedding.

Attention potential overseas investors : please bring your own electricity to SA

Marcan, 100% agree with you re wind and solar. We as a nation have been gifted with an abundant supply of sunshine (one of the highest solar irradiations in the world), and plenty of wind due to our 3000km coastline. I have never yet seen a weather report stating 0 km/h wind speed for our coastal cities….
Nuclear is not an option: no nuclear plant I know of has ever been completed on time and without massive cost overruns. Nuclear plants would take at least a decade to be operational, and they have massive potential for corruption. Obviously we do still currently need coal as baseload, but as CSPs increase, with their molten salt they can produce power for at least 4 hours after sundown. And while the price of lithium phosphate batteries is still high, with Musk and others beavering away, it will drop significantly in coming years providing additional storage as has already happened in Australia. Eskom is a dodo, much like horse-driven carriages were around 1900. So yes, agree with you about solar/wind vs biomass as an energy source for SA.

I called Eskom a Disastrous Dying Dinosaur that has to be taken out of its misery ASAP.
The smaller CSP+TS units we have in SA of 50 and 100 Mw can store heat=electricity up to 9 hrs, much larger units overseas can store heat up to 48 hrs, making it basically a 24/7/365 operation as these units are all located in areas with very few cloudy days/year.
Read :
CSP+TS is very expensive in SA for unknown reasons at R1.69/kWh, most likely because of unclear, noncompetitive bidding process in the awarding of contracts for the REIPPS. Overseas it is between R 70 to 110 cts/kWh.
Hydro and CSP+TS are ideally suited to complement the more fickle wind and PV solar power. Hydro can be switched on almost instantly, at any time of the day, when the dams are full. That is why we must here in SA must not be too negative about the Grand Inga project in the DRC. Although the DRC is a very unsettled place, and we will need long vulnerable HV lines, it would be very welcome for the power supply of the whole region

Thanks for CSP article reference; very interesting indeed, esp. energy storage capacity of molten salt being 12 hours, and larger units even up to 48 hrs. Costs are dropping fast, technology is proceeding apace. SA needs to wake up and grab the bountiful natural resources we have, instead of polluting our planet with the Eskom dinosaur.

End of comments.





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