Pioneering clean energy system could help reduce premature deaths in sub-Saharan Africa

10 May 2023

A unique hybrid energy generator and storage system that could reduce premature deaths in parts of Ghana and Nigeria is being developed by researchers at the University of Derby.

The team – Zaharaddeen Hussaini, Dr Hirbod Varasteh and Dr Mounia Karim – have been awarded £101k for an 18-month project in Innovate UK’s Energy Catalyst programme, which supports UK government efforts to deliver a just and clean energy transition in Africa and Asia.

Working with partner Thermoelectric Conversion Systems, the researchers have already completed a feasibility study for a device that combines the ability to use concentrated heat from the sun for cooking with a thermoelectric generator. This will provide electricity that can power small domestic appliances such as mobile phone chargers and radios. Waste heat from the cooking process is captured and transformed into electricity.

The project aims to provide clean cooking and off-grid renewable energy systems to rural communities in Nigeria and Ghana and provide a way to deliver secure, low-emission and affordable energy.

Zaharaddeen Hussaini, a Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) researcher at the University of Derby, highlights the potential life-saving impact of the system, which is specifically designed for use in rural areas of Nigeria and Ghana. He said:

‘’The lack of access to grid energy in these regions forces residents to rely on traditional open-fire cooking methods, leading to indoor pollution that contributes to over 500,000 premature deaths each year in sub-Saharan Africa. By providing a sustainable alternative, this innovative system has the potential to not only save lives but also bring electricity to communities that have long been disconnected from the grid.’’

A person in a laboratory
Zaharaddeen Hussaini

The system uses a concentrating solar collector to generate heat for cooking, while a thermoelectric generator captures the waste heat and converts it into electricity. Not only does this solution improve access to clean energy, but it also includes an integrated storage tank that allows for the storage of energy generated by the sun, making it available for use during periods of low or no sunlight. This innovative system ensures a reliable and sustainable source of energy for households.

Zaharaddeen continues:

“This solution is expected to be more cost-competitive than extending the national grid network in most cases; rural areas in these countries are often located far from the national grid, in difficult terrains and with low population density. The project will also help to reduce dependence on the national grid and extend access to renewable energy, helping to reduce carbon emissions and deforestation.”

Over the next 18 months the team will be perfecting the design of the system in the UK, while partners in Ghana and Nigeria carry out market and social research to ensure successful commercialisation of the product that takes into account equal and inclusive access for users in local communities. Following this the team will travel to Africa to support with assembly and testing and to provide training and awareness programmes to local communities on the advantages of clean cooking.

The University of Derby is the only institution in the UK that specialises in concentrated solar power as an alternative energy source, and is the only UK institution to be a full member of the European Energy Research Association (EERA) Joint Programme in CSP, which steers European research in concentrating solar technologies. Professor Christopher Sansom, who leads the activity, commented:

“The project continues our contribution to knowledge in CSP, and provides a significant step forward in the safe, affordable, and sustainable decarbonisation of solar cookers and off-grid electrical power generation in developing regions of the world.”

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