Ann Crotty

Media24 is joining the growing ranks of companies that are looking at ways of reducing their exposure to the increasingly expensive and erratic supply of energy from Eskom, and later this year plans to launch a biomass power plant to run its recently acquired state-of-the-art printing press.

The plan, which will be implemented by Media24 subsidiary Paarl Media, is to use biomass power to run the publication’s gravure presses including the recently acquired R150 million Cerutti Aurora.

Its use will see Paarl Media not only reducing its reliance on Eskom-generated electricity, but doing so in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner that even helps to create jobs.

The biomass power plant turns combustible biological materials such as wood and agricultural waste into energy either through combustion or gasification. The plant at Paarl Media’s Cape Town facility will be based on combustion. This involves burning biomass in a boiler to turn water into steam, which is used in the publication gravure printing process.

“Modern technology has greatly improved the efficiency of the process by utilising as much of the available thermal energy as possible, typically by recovery of waste heat in the flue gasses,” said Christoff Botha, the executive director of Paarl Media Group Western Cape. He added that the biomass boiler would be used purely for the generation of steam that would be used in the printing process.

A critical factor in Paarl Media’s plan is that it will only use fast-growing alien vegetation such as black wattle and Port Jackson in its biomass power plant. “These alien species are currently a significant problem in the Western Cape as they tend to crowd out indigenous plants and use considerably more water,” Botha said.

An additional positive consideration is that the project will generate work for locals and small enterprises in the Boland region through the harvesting of the alien vegetation and the subsequent chipping and distribution of the wood chips.

The potential environmental benefits even extend to possible uses for the ash that is generated by the process. “The ash has successfully been used as agricultural fertiliser in the past in the area along the West Coast,” Botha said, adding: “We don’t have any agreements in place for this at present, but we certainly plan to explore it.”

Botha could not give details about the cost of the biomass boiler, but said that given the proposed 8 percent a year hike in electricity prices the pay-back period would be less than four years.

There are no plans to roll out biomass plants in Paarl Media’s other operations because the generation of steam is only used in the publication gravure presses, which are all located in Cape Town.