An updated BioEnergy Atlas for South Africa with a geospatial core

By Dr Hayden Wilson and Dr Marc Pienaar, SAEON uLwazi Node

The BioEnergy Atlas for South Africa is a knowledge repository to assess the potential benefits and impacts of bioenergy production within South Africa. The project was funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and implemented by SAEON’s uLwazi Node.

Bioenergy represents a suite of technology options for energy production, both direct replacements for fossil fuels and for electricity generation. All these technologies rely on biomass as a feedstock to produce bioenergy products. Using biomass to produce energy presents an opportunity to generate energy sustainably, provided that the biomass feedstock is sourced in a sustainable manner.

The project has been through multiple iterations. The first version was published as a hardcopy book in 2015, the second version is an online atlas published in 2018 and the most recent version was published in 2021.

A spatial modelling platform at the core

The core of the BioEnergy Atlas is the modelling platform – an advanced spatial-logistics model developed in Python to provide planners, economists and sustainable energy experts with the tools and data they require to evaluate the feasibility of a specific bioenergy technology/feedstock combination. The modelling platform consists of:

  • The Virtual Roads Algorithm – A toolset to calculate the least cost route from any location to the nearest roadside while navigating around obstacles such as sensitive riparian areas or cliffs.
  • The Location-allocation Algorithm – A toolset which determines the optimal locations to situate bioenergy conversion facilities where transportation costs are minimised.
  • Road Transport Cost Calculator – This tool uses the locations of the roadside depots generated by the Virtual Roads Algorithm, the Modelled Facility Locations from the Location-allocation Algorithm and a least-cost pathway algorithm to calculate the transport costs of servicing the feedstock locations which supply the modelled facility locations.
  • A conversion costs calculator to determine the final unit cost of a bioenergy product based on user-defined parameters.
  • A cost comparison toolkit to compare the unit cost of production with alternative competing products.
  • A charting application to produce detailed data visualisations for each modelled scenario.
A screenshot of the BioEnergy Atlast dashboard showing the geospatial platform.
The interactive BioEnergy Atlas dashboard updates automatically as users filter technology options and other variables.

Useful ancillary information

The atlas also includes ancillary information useful to the bioenergy industry, such as:

  • A database of the spatial locations and seasonal availability of different bioenergy feedstocks.
  • A database of conversion technology parameters and information.
  • An interactive dashboard for assessing different scenarios based on region and feedstock; as well as supplementary information and considerations regarding bioenergy production.

There are also case studies available as examples of how the BioEnergy Atlas modelling platform can be used in bioenergy project implementation.

The BioEnergy Atlas (BEA) team plans to continually improve the BEA website and the BEA modelling platform and are open to partnering with stakeholders to use the technology it has developed to perform feasibility analyses.

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