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Ghana's best shot at going green: sewage power

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Luckily, nobody bothers to treat that slop. Sewage treatment plants, as far as Mr. Wade is concerned, fritter away the good stuff. If all goes according to plan, next month one truck a day from Kumasi will dump its payload into a warm and massive vat that will skim lipids – fat – off the top. “That's your biodeisel,” he explains.

At $7 a gallon, he can sell the muck to local mining companies, who are keen to buy because they, too, have been required by Parliament to power 10 percent of their private electric plants from green sources. Normal diesel does sell for a few bucks cheaper, he admits, “But we're still optimizing the process.” If he can get costs down, Wade intends to build four plants in Accra and lecture subdivisions back home in Colorado on the folly of treating their waste.

Alternatives to the alternatives

There are more sanitary ways to make a megawatt in this country. Kwame Tufor came home from Florida to liquefy Ghana's coconut husks, cocoa pods, and palm nut shells into gas. But you'd need a lot of coconuts to turn a profit that way. So he and a business partner are eyeing an old paper farm the size of Brooklyn. Sometime between one 1970s coup and another, the owner ran out of money and political favor, abandoning acres of trees that were meant to be mulched into notepads 35 years ago.

Mr. Tufor intends to saw those trees down, replant them, then burn the timber and compress the smoke into a biofuel using dated World War II technology that's been dusted off by developing world power plants. At least 10 plants in China now gasify coal this way. Farmers in the Philippines run irrigation pumps on generators that gasify rice husks. If Tufor's $200 million project pans out, local farmers would also sell him their nutshells and cocoa pods for his incinerator.

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