Tholoana Sustainable Development and Environmental Consultants

Ubombo Sugar Cogeneration Project

Ubombo Sugar Cogeneration Project, Big Bend Swaziland

Illovo Sugar is a leading, global, low-cost sugar producer and a significant manufacturer of high-value downstream products. The group is Africa’s biggest sugar producer and has extensive agricultural and manufacturing operations in six African countries.

Illovo Sugar’s Ubombo factory in Big Bend, Swaziland is a multimillion rand investment to design and supply a co-generation Plant that will be required to maximise thermal efficiency and electrical power generation from a variety of waste fuels, predominantly bagasse and “tops and trash” – the by product of the cane harvesting process.

The expansion and co-generation project at the Ubombo Sugar Mill in Big Bend, Swaziland has been approved and has commenced, with equipment orders already being placed. The project provides for an increase in sugar production from 230 000 to in excess of 300 000 tons per annum, together with an increase in power generation capacity utilising biomass as supplementary fuel for the factory boilers.

Once completed the co-generation Plant will function as a power station that can operate both independently (when it will be electrically isolated from the Swaziland Electricity Company utility) and in "export mode" (when it will be electrically coupled to the Swaziland Electricity Company) to satisfy the broad range of operational circumstances that occur at the Factory during both the crop and the off-crop sessions.


Andrew Woghiren was responsible for managing the Initial Environmental Evaluation and various specialist studies as well as the finalisation of the project up to its approval. These studies were a prerequisite in terms of Swaziland’s Environmental Impact Assessment Review Regulations, 2000.



Schematic diagram of a typical boiler used at a sugar mill

Overall the project was found to be very beneficial to the stability of electrical supply to the Big Bend region. The study showed that there would be long term socio-economic benefits for the local community, since the harvesting of tops and trash would be undertaken by local cooperatives and small-scale farmers. The added benefit of improved local air quality (given the elimination of burning in the field) meant that the project was sustainable from an environmental, social and economic perspective. This was an exceptional case, as many projects of this kind often entail making trade-offs between the environment, benefits to the community or economic gains.

The co-generation power plant will enable the factory and estates to become self-sufficient in electricity consumption. In addition, agreement has been reached with the Swaziland Electricity Company to supply power into the national grid for 48 weeks of the year. Ubombo is seeking to earn carbon credits through registration of the co-generation project under the Clean Development Mechanism. The entire project will cost R1.510 billion and is due to be commissioned in April 2011.

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