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FAQ Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Why is Hamburg participating in this project? Our FAQs will answer these and many other questions.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Kapitelübersicht

What is the aim of the project?

In short, the aim is to stop the ecological problem of bush encroachment in Namibia and to speed up the coal phase-out in Hamburg.

Controlled harvesting and processing of bush wood in Namibia is intended to halt bush encroachment, which has devastating consequences for Namibia's ecosystems. It is currently being investigated whether the biomass processed into wood pellets can be delivered by ship to Hamburg for use as an energy source. This could enable Hamburg to phase out coal use in district heating supply more quickly and thus contribute to the climate goals of the Hamburg Senate. Only if it can be demonstrated beyond any doubt that environmental, social and economic factors are positive, can and will this initiative be implemented.

Kapitelübersicht

Why did the City of Hamburg co-initiate the “Biomass Partnership Hamburg-Namibia” project?

The logistical requirements of the Hamburg location are favourable: through the port Hamburg has the opportunity to trade large quantities of bush biomass and, via the district heating network, an opportunity for use in thermal energy generation on a large scale. Hamburg could thus become one of the international buyers of wood pellets that Namibia is urgently looking for. The project would contribute to achieving the Senate's current climate policy goals, which are enshrined in the Climate Plan and Climate Protection Law. Climate protection also plays a central role in the current government programme. Hamburg has committed itself to the phase-out of coal-fired combustion in district heating by 2030 at the latest. The burning of Namibian bush biomass could help to meet this schedule even earlier.

Kapitelübersicht

How can biomass from Namibia help Hamburg phase out coal?

Biomass can be used as a renewable resource with significantly less CO2 emissions to substitute coal by either being co-fired or used in a completely new plant, thus supporting the coal phase-out. The quantities for this cannot be determined yet. Wärme Hamburg examines different scenarios for the replacement of coal, with biomass in general and biomass from Namibia being an option. The scenarios range from 100,000 to 1 million tonnes per year.

Kapitelübersicht

Does the use of biomass from Namibia in Hamburg really have a more favourable CO2 balance than other energy sources such as natural gas?

In order to answer this question, emissions from harvesting, transport to processing sites, processing itself, shipment to Hamburg and land use after harvest were calculated and set in relation to other energy sources. This assessment is very complex and is therefore presented in different scenarios. In the scenario currently considered most likely, the calculation arrives at CO2 emissions of approximately minus 26 gCO2/kWh. Minus because in this scenario more CO2 is stored on site than emitted by the other processes (transport, combustion, etc.) in the long run. This calculation shows that the use of Namibian bush biomass, despite the long transport distance, has a much better carbon footprint than for example natural gas.

Kapitelübersicht

Can the shipment of pellets from Namibia to Hamburg have an acceptable carbon footprint?

The literature (Current research information system CRIS) indicates highly variable CO2 emissions for maritime transport ranging from 5 to 60 gCO2/tkm. A concrete calculation for this project, which was carried out by the IfaS together with a logistics service provider assumes about 10,000 km at sea from the port of Walvis Bay in Namibia to Hamburg and a transport capacity per ship of about 50,000 t of wood pellets. For the heavy fuel oil consumed emissions of 6.9 gCO2/tkm or 69 kgCO2/t were calculated. Converted to the calorific value of the pellets (5 MWh/t) this results in 13 kgCO2/MWh. Through a comparison with the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas at combustion, amounting to around 250 kgCO2/MWh, it becomes apparent that the negative climate effect of shipping is small.

Kapitelübersicht

When did the project start and who initiated it?

The first exchange was initiated during a visit of a Namibian delegation to Germany in September 2019, in which the Namibian side expressed the need for international off-take of the bush biomass. This was followed by in-depth technical discussions at the beginning of 2020.  Since then, the Institute for Applied Material Flow Management (IfaS) of the University of Trier advises on the assessment of a biomass partnership between Hamburg and Namibia.

Kapitelübersicht

How far has the project progressed in Hamburg?

The project is in an evaluation phase in which various options and potentials are examined, with open-ended results. Following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in May 2020, several meetings of the working groups, including environmental NGOs, as well as governmental and private partners from Namibia, have now taken place. Interim results will gradually be published here on this homepage.

The final test results are expected in summer 2021.

Kapitelübersicht

What is ‘bush encroachment’?

‘Bush’ outside of Europe refers to large areas with a thicket of shrubs or simply wilderness. Bush encroachment in Namibia means that mainly native shrubs spread aggressively and massively at the expense of other plant species.

Bush encroachment on grassland is a global phaenomenon - the transition from ecosystems with a fair balance of bushes and grasses to bush-dominated landscapes with far fewer grasses. This leads to severe restrictions on biodiversity, the habitat of animals and plants, the productivity of (range) land and the recharge of groundwater. Such major changes are taking place, for example, in the Alps, Cuba, Ethiopia or in Southern Africa. However, the semi-arid savannahs in Namibia and South Africa are among the worst affected areas. Video on this topic

Kapitelübersicht

How large is the area affected by bush encroachment in Namibia?

Bush encroachment affects up to 450,000 km2 of otherwise productive farmland in Namibia, which corresponds to about half of the country's area - comparable to the area of Sweden1. The extent of the bush encroachment in Namibia is unique in global comparison.

Kapitelübersicht

Why does bush encroachment need to be stopped?

Almost all scientists, Namibian politicians and various environmental organisations agree that bush encroachment has so many disadvantages that action should be taken against it. The disadvantages mainly concern agriculture, biodiversity, tourism and groundwater levels. The thinning of the bush thicket and thus the restoration of 15 million hectares of grassland are included in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC, 2015, Paris) as Namibia's contribution to climate protection and are thus internationally recognised as a climate protection measure.

Kapitelübersicht

How is it locally ensured that overgrazing does not cause even more bush encroachment?

70% of the population depend directly or indirectly on agriculture and has therefore suffered massively and increasingly for decades from the bush encroachment of productive savannah. It is in their immediate and existential self-interest to manage their land sustainably.

The government also makes provision for sustainable management of the land resource through policy provisions and guidelines  (National Policy and Strategy for Sustainable Rangeland Management). Guidelines for bush control are an integral part of this agricultural strategy.

Kapitelübersicht

How is bush wood currently used in Namibia?

For many years bush wood has been processed locally – also with the support of German and international organisation of development cooperation. The use rangs for, for example, from energy source (electricity, heat, cooking energy), to charcoal, animal feed or on a small scale furniture and handicrafts. A 40 MW biomass power plant is also planned. In the future, biomass supposedly will also be used for bioplastics and for chemical substances in support of composite materials, including synthetic fuels.

But the existing and annually re-growing quantities are so large that only a small portion can be processed and used in Namibia. It must be considered that Namibia has only about 2.5 million inhabitants and that there is little need for heating.

Kapitelübersicht

Why is bush wood not used for sustainable energy production locally, for Namibia and its neighbouring countries?

Including the planned biomass power plant, Namibia currently uses less than 2 million tonnes of bush biomass, with an annual bush growth of about 14 million tonnes. Neighbouring countries such as Botswana and South Africa also suffer from the problem of bush encroachment and thus have their own biomass resource base.

Namibia's target is to use local renewable energy sources for 70% of domestic energy supply by 2030. However, only a share of up to 80 MW or 11% has been allocated to the bush biomass, as there are considerable and more economical potentials for solar and wind energy.

Kapitelübersicht

Hasn't all bush wood been harvested at some point, and then there is no more supply?

Independent studies2 estimate that the natural growth of bush biomass in Namibia amounts to about 14 million tonnes per year. This is based on the current bush resource and an increase of about 3% per year. This amount would have to be taken from the ecosystem in order to only curb the progressive bush encroachment. Of these, 3 million tonnes per year can be used locally in the foreseeable future, but currently less than 2 million tonnes.

Kapitelübersicht

Can the harvesting of bush create new environmental problems?

In order to prevent this from happening, it is important to prevent mismanagement and unsustainable practices, such as excessive harvesting or soil damage through the use of inappropriate technologies.

The harvesting of bush wood is already controlled and limited: for each bush harvest, a timely and geographically limited permit is issued by the Namibian Forestry Authority - the use of the resource is therefore directly controllable. In addition, public and private consulting service providers, such as the De-bushing Advisory Service (DAS), offer training and direct advice for a professional and sustainable bush harvest.

Kapitelübersicht

Why should the bush wood be processed into pellets?

Wood chips are produced directly during bush wood harvesting in the field.  The wood chips   can be processed into wood pellets in biomass hubs that are yet to be built. These have a higher calorific value per kg mass and thus minimal CO2 transport emissions per calorific value.  In addition, the local production (i.e. the refinement of raw wood to the product pellets) would maximise the domestic value addition in Namibia.

Kapitelübersicht

To what extent are Namibian stakeholders involved in the project?

In the Agreement of May 2020, the Namibian Biomass Industry Group (N-BiG), representing more than 60 member companies and organisations, is directly involved in working groups. In addition, Namibian ministries such as the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), non-governmental organisations such as the Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and the Namibia University for Science and Technology (NUST) are involved in the project.

Kapitelübersicht

What do environmental organisations in Namibia say about the project?

Relevant Namibian environmental associations support the project: The Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) has been directly involved in the project from the very beginning and is also involved in the working groups. The FSC Southern Africa  which has introduced a standard specifically for bush control, is also involved in the working group. Also, the Namibian Environmental Chamber (NEC) expressed itself in support of the assessment process.


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1 SAIEA (2015): Strategic Environmental Assessment of Large-Scale Bush Thinning and Value-Addition Activities in Namibia.

2 Study by N-BiG, shared by third parties such as IfaS, GIZ, NNF and others

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