King Grass is a very high-yield, non-genetically modified, perennial grass that can be used for a low carbon, renewable replacement for coal and oil to generate electricity and heat

Barbados king grass project – helping to secure a small island’s food and energy future

Viking Heat Engines is working alongside a farmers' consortium and local utility company to find a solution for Barbados’ food and energy security challenges in the face of the continued decline of the local sugar industry. Read Chris' blog to learn how we're looking to make a difference in the Caribbean.

The small island of Barbados in the Caribbean is facing an agricultural crisis. Sugarcane, once the corner stone of the Barbadian agricultural sector, is in steady decline with production fallen to less than 5% of what it was 10 years ago.

Drying of king grass

Ageing infrastructure, high labour costs and the phasing out of certain preferential trade agreements have made it impossible to compete on world markets. As such, lower and lower revenues are being realized, thus, less reinvestment into successive crop cycles has led to a decline in output.

Move over sugar

Even though tourism has long displaced sugar as the primary foreign revenue earner for Barbados, sugarcane still plays an important role in agriculture and to the food security of the island. The sugarcane plant is a relatively resilient grass, which acts to protect the soil, fix nutrients and fight weed growth. This is essential for sustainable food crop farming, as it is not possible to continually grow crop after crop of vegetables in the same field. Rather, a rotational crop is required to allow for soil recovery, and sugarcane fits this role perfectly.

As one would expect, the decline of sugar production means that less sugar cane is grown, which is making it more and more difficult to viably and sustainably cultivate food crops.

Our team in Barbados was engaged by a group of farmers who have started to grow an alternate rotation crop called king grass. King grass is a fast growing, non-invasive, high-yield crop - very similar in appearance and cultivation practice to sugarcane. They currently have over 200 acres in cultivation and, so far, they have seen that king grass provides all the agronomic benefits that sugarcane did, but better. The missing parameter is that, for the overall farm to be profitable, the rotation crop needs to generate a revenue. This dilemma leads them to try to solve another challenge of national significance – energy security.

A powerful king

Barbados’ continued reliance on fossil fuels and susceptibility to unpredictable oil prices is a problem. More than 90% of the electricity generated in this small island is from fossil fuels. The national electricity company is committed to moving to 100% renewable energy and the Government has also recently initiated a plan to significantly reduce the dependence on fossil fuel generation.

Briquettes are being produced of the dried king grass

Due to its high yield, fast growing properties and chemical composition, king grass is an excellent biomass fuel. Thus, the concept of using this new crop to produce renewable electricity was born.

Together with the farmers and the local power company, Viking Heat Engines is developing a concept whereby king grass is used to fuel several, small-to medium-scale, distributed biomass-to-power facilities around the island. Larger farms will fuel their own on-site facility, while several smaller farms will fuel a facility at a central point between them. This distributed model removes the transportation logistics, cost and carbon footprint, typically associated with larger centralized biomass power plants as all transportation will be done on farm roads by farm equipment.

Viking makes it possible

The king grass will be delivered to the facility, where it will be pre-processed prior to thermal conversion into syngas or heat energy. This will then be used to produce electricity, which will be fed into the national grid. One or more Viking Heat Engine’s CraftEngines will be installed at each facility to capture the waste heat, and ensure that the overall efficiency is maximized.

Later this year, a pilot facility will be installed at a site near to the existing king grass fields. Once successful, it will be duplicated at several farms across the island, and potentially across the Caribbean region. The social, environmental and economic impacts of this project are significant. The elegant blend of renewables, energy efficiency and agriculture has already attracted interest from several large funding organizations. We at Viking Heat Engines proud to be a part of this positive change.

This blog post has been written by Chris Straughn, Technical Manager at Viking Heat Engines Caribbean. You can reach Chris at chris.straughn@vikingheatengines.com.

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