Agricultural Scenario in MENA

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of most of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  The contribution of the agricultural sector to the overall economy varies significantly among countries in the region, ranging from about 3.2 percent in Saudi Arabia to 13.4 percent in Egypt.  Large scale irrigation is expanding, enabling intensive production of high value cash and export crops, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, and sugar.

Egypt is the 14th biggest rice producer in the world and the 8th biggest cotton producer in the world. Egypt produced about 5.67 million tons of rice and 635,000 tons of cotton in 2011. The area of cotton crop cultivation accounts for about 5% of the cultivated area in Egypt. The total amount of crop residues is about 16 million tons of dry matter per year. Cotton residues represent about 9% of the total amount of residues. These are materials comprising mainly cotton stalks, which present a disposal problem.

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is widely thought of as a desert, it has regions where the climate has favored agriculture. By implementing major irrigations projects and adopting large scale mechanization, Saudi Arabia has made great progress in developing agricultural sector. The Kingdom has achieved self-sufficiency in the production of wheat, eggs, and milk, among other commodities, though it still imports the bulk of its food needs. Wheat is the primary cultivated grain, followed by sorghum and barley. Dates, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash are also important crops.

Despite the fact that MENA is the most water-scarce and dry region worldwide, many countries across the region, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea, are highly dependent on agriculture.  For example, the Oum Er Rbia River basin contains half of Morocco’s public irrigated agriculture and produces 60 percent of its sugar beets, 40 percent of its olives, and 40 percent of its milk.

Agricultural output is central to the Tunisian economy. Major crops are cereals and olive oil, with almost half of all the cultivated land sown with cereals and another third planted. Tunisia is one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of olive oil, and it exports dates and citrus fruits that are grown mostly in the northern parts of the country.

Agriculture in Lebanon is the third most important sector in the country after the tertiary and industrial sectors. It contributes nearly 7% to GDP and employs around 15% of the active population. Main crops include cereals (mainly wheat and barley), fruits and vegetables, olives, grapes, and tobacco, along with sheep and goat herding.

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Agricultural Biomass in MENA

 

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of most of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.  Despite the fact that MENA is the most water-scarce and dry region in the world, many countries in the region, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea, are highly dependent on agriculture.  The contribution of the agricultural sector to the overall economy varies significantly among countries in the region, ranging, for example, from about 3.2 percent in Saudi Arabia to 13.4 percent in Egypt.  Large scale irrigation coupled with mechanization has enabled entensive production of high-value cash crops, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, and sugar in the Middle East.

The term ‘crop residues’ covers the whole range of biomass produced as by-products from growing and processing crops. Crop residues encompasses all agricultural wastes such as bagasse, straw, stem, stalk, leaves, husk, shell, peel, pulp, stubble, etc. Wheat and barley are the major staple crops grown in the Middle East region. In addition, significant quantities of rice, maize, lentils, chickpeas, vegetables and fruits are produced throughout the region, mainly in Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan. 

Egypt is the one of world's biggest producer of rice and cotton and produced about 5.67 million tons of rice and 635,000 tons of cotton in 2011. Infact, crop residues are considered to be the most important and traditional source of domestic fuel in rural Egypt. The total amount of crop wastes in Egypt is estimated at about 16 million tons of dry matter per year. Cotton residues represent about 9% of the total amount of residues. These are materials comprising mainly cotton stalks, which present a disposal problem. The area of cotton crop cultivation accounts for about 5% of the cultivated area in Egypt.

Agricultural output is central to the Tunisian economy. Major crops are cereals and olive oil, with almost half of all the cultivated land sown with cereals and another third planted. Tunisia is one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of olive oil, and it exports dates and citrus fruits that are grown mostly in the northern parts of the country.

To sum up, large quantities of crop residues are produced annually in the region, and are vastly underutilised. Current farming practice is usually to plough these residues back into the soil, or they are burnt, left to decompose, or grazed by cattle. These residues could be processed into liquid fuels or thermochemically processed to produce electricity and heat in rural areas. Energy crops, such as Jatropha, can be successfully grown in arid regions for biodiesel production. Infact, Jatropha is already grown at limited scale in some Middle East countries and tremendous potential exists for its commercial exploitation.

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Environmental Best Practices for MENA Cement Industry

Cement production in MENA region has almost tripled during the last 15 years, mainly on account of high population growth rate, rapid urbanization, increasing industrialization and large-scale infrastructural development. The growth of cement industry in MENA is marked by factors that are directly connected with sustainability, energy efficiency and raw material supply. Although the factors differ from country to country and cannot be generalized, there are major concerns regarding shortage of raw materials, GHG emissions, dependence on fossil fuels and lack of investment in technological innovations.

For the MENA cement sector, key points for an environment-friendly industry are use of alternative raw materials and alternative fuels, energy-efficient equipment and green technologies. As the use of alternative fuels and raw materials is still uncommon in the Middle East, guidelines and regulatory framework have to be defined which can set standards for the use of alternative or waste-derived fuels like municipal solid wastes, dried sewage sludge, agricultural wastes, drilling wastes etc.

Sewage Sludge

An attractive disposal method for sewage sludge is to use it as alternative fuel source in a cement kiln. Dried sewage sludge with high organic content possesses a high calorific value. Due to the high temperature in the kiln the organic content of the sewage sludge will be completely destroyed. The resultant ash is incorporated in the cement matrix. Infact, several European countries, like Germany and Switzerland, have already started adopting this practice for sewage sludge management.

The MENA region produces huge quantity of municipal wastewater which represents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment, human health and marine life. Sewage generation across the region is rising by an astonishing rate of 25 percent every year. Municipal wastewater treatment plants in MENA produce large amounts of sludge whose disposal is a cause of major concern.

For example, Kuwait has 6 wastewater treatment plants, with combined capacity of treating 12,000m³ of municipal wastewater per day, which produce around 250 tons of sludge daily. Similarly Tunisia has approximately 125 wastewater treatment plants which generate around 1 million tons of sewage sludge every year. Currently most of the sewage is sent to landfills. Sewage sludge generation is bound to increase at rapid rates in MENA due to increase in number and size of urban habitats and growing industrialization.

The use of sewage sludge as alternative fuel is a common practice in cement plants around the world, Europe in particular. It could be an attractive business proposition for wastewater treatment plant operators and cement industry in the Middle East to work together to tackle the problem of sewage sludge disposal, and high energy requirements and GHGs emissions from the cement industry.

Use of sludge in cement kilns will led to eco-friendly disposal of municipal sewage

Use of sludge in cement kilns will led to eco-friendly disposal of municipal sewage

Sewage sludge has relatively high net calorific value of 10-20 MJ/kg as well as lower carbon dioxide emissions factor compared to coal when treated in a cement kiln. Use of sludge in cement kilns can also tackle the problem of safe and eco-friendly disposal of sewage sludge. The cement industry accounts for almost 5 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions worldwide. Treating municipal wastes in cement kilns can reduce industry’s reliance on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Municipal Solid Wastes and Biomass

Alternative fuels, such as refuse-derived fuels or RDF, have very good energy-saving potential. The substitution of fossil fuel by alternative sources of energy is common practice in the European cement industry. The German cement industry, for example, substitutes approximately 61% of their fossil fuel demand. Typical alternative fuels available in MENA countries are municipal solid wastes, agro-industrial wastes, industrial wastes and crop residues.

The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries has crossed 150 million tons per annum. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. Solid waste disposal is a big challenge in almost all MENA countries so conversion of MSW to RDF will not ease the environmental situation but also provide an attractive fuel for the regional cement industry. Tens of millions of tyres are discarded across the MENA region each year. Scrap tyres are are an attractive source of energy and find widespread use in countries around the world.

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of most of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.  Despite the fact that MENA is the most water-scarce and dry region in the world, many countries in the region, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea, are highly dependent on agriculture. Egypt is the 14th biggest rice producer in the world and the 8th biggest cotton producer in the world. Similarly Tunisia is one of the biggest producers and exporters of olive oil in the world. Such high biomass production rates should be welcomed by the cement industry since these materials comprise cotton stalks, rice husks and rice straw which serve ideally as alternative fuels. However it is ironical that olive kernels – the waste from Tunisian olive production – is exported to European power plants in order to save fossil fuel-derived CO2 emissions there, while Tunisia imports approximately 90% of its energy demand, consisting of fossil fuels.

Drilling Wastes as Alternative Raw Material

The reduction of clinker portion in cement affords another route to reduce energy consumption. In particular, granulated blast furnace slags or even limestone have proven themselves as substitutes in cement production, thus reducing the overall energy consumption. The Middle East oil and gas industry has made a lot of effort in order to reduce the environmental impact of their activities. The use of drilling wastes and muds is preferable in cement kilns, as a cement kiln can be an attractive, less expensive alternative to a rotary kiln. In cement kilns, drilling wastes with oily components can be used in a fuel-blending program to substitute for fuel that would otherwise be needed to fire the kiln.

Conclusions

The cement industry can play a significant role in the sustainable development in the Arab countries, e.g. by reducing fossil fuel emissions with the use of refused derived fuels (RDF) made from municipal solid waste or biomass pellets. The cement companies in the Middle East can contribute to sustainability also by improving their own internal practices such as improving energy efficiency and implementing recycling programs. Businesses can show commitments to sustainability through voluntary adopting the concepts of social and environmental responsibilities, implementing cleaner production practices, and accepting extended responsibilities for their products.  

The major points of consideration are types of wastes and alternative fuels that may be used, standards for production of waste-derived fuels, emission standards and control mechanisms, permitting procedures etc. Appropriate standards also need to be established for alternative raw materials that are to be used for clinker and cement production.

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Biomass Energy in Middle East

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region offers almost 45 percent of the world’s total energy potential from all renewable sources that can generate more than three times the world’s total power demand. MENA region has abundant biomass energy resources which have remained unexplored to a great extent. According to conservative estimates, the potential of biomass energy in the Euro-Mediterranean region is about 400TWh per year. Around the region, pollution of the air and water from municipal, industrial and agricultural operations continues to grow.  The technological advancements in the biomass energy industry, coupled with the tremendous regional potential, promises to usher in a new era of energy as well as environmental security for the region.

The major biomass producing countries are Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Traditionally, biomass energy has been widely used in rural areas for domestic purposes in the MENA region, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. Since most of the region is arid or semi-arid, the biomass energy potential is mainly contributed by municipal solid wastes, agricultural residues and industrial wastes.

Municipal solid wastes represent the best source of biomass in Middle East countries. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries is estimated at more than 150 million tons annually. Food waste is the third-largest component of generated waste by weight which mostly ends up rotting in landfill and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The mushrooming of hotels, restaurants, fast-food joints and cafeterias in the region has resulted in the generation of huge quantities of food wastes.

In Middle East countries, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment and human health. On an average, the rate of wastewater generation is 80-200 litres per person each day and sewage output is rising by as much as 25 percent every year. According to conservative estimates, sewage generation in the Dubai is atleast 500,000 m3 per day.

The food processing industry in MENA produces a large number of organic residues and by-products that can be used as biomass energy sources. In recent decades, the fast-growing food and beverage processing industry has remarkably increased in importance in major countries of the region. Since the early 1990s, the increased agricultural output stimulated an increase in fruit and vegetable canning as well as juice, beverage, and oil processing in countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

The MENA countries have strong animal population. The livestock sector, in particular sheep, goats and camels, plays an important role in the national economy of respective countries. Many millions of live ruminants are imported each year from around the world. In addition, the region has witnessed very rapid growth in the poultry sector. The biogas potential of animal manure can be harnessed both at small- and community-scale.

The Middle East region is well-poised for biomass energy development, with its rich biomass resources in the form of municipal solid waste, crop residues and agro-industrial waste. The implementation of advanced biomass conversion technologies as a method for safe disposal of solid and liquid biomass wastes, and as an attractive option to generate heat, power and fuels, can greatly reduce environmental impacts of a wide array of biomass wastes. 

 

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Introduction to Biorefinery

A biorefinery is a facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, and value-added chemicals from biomass. Biorefinery is analogous to today’s petroleum refinery, which produces multiple fuels and products from petroleum. By producing several products, a biorefinery takes advantage of the various components in biomass and their intermediates, therefore maximizing the value derived from the biomass feedstock.

A biorefinery could, for example, produce one or several low-volume, but high-value, chemical products and a low-value, but high-volume liquid transportation fuel such as biodiesel or bioethanol. At the same time, it can generate electricity and process heat, through CHP technology, for its own use and perhaps enough for sale of electricity to the local utility. The high value products increase profitability, the high-volume fuel helps meet energy needs, and the power production helps to lower energy costs and reduce GHG emissions from traditional power plant facilities.

Working of a Biorefinery

There are several platforms which can be used in a biorefinery with the major ones being the sugar platform and the thermochemical platform (also known as syngas platform).

Sugar platform biorefineries breaks down biomass into different types of component sugars for fermentation or other biological processing into various fuels and chemicals. On the other hand, thermochemical biorefineries transform biomass into synthesis gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) or pyrolysis oil.

The thermochemical biomass conversion process is complex, and uses components, configurations, and operating conditions that are more typical of petroleum refining. Biomass is converted into syngas, and syngas is converted into an ethanol-rich mixture. However, syngas created from biomass contains contaminants such as tar and sulphur that interfere with the conversion of the syngas into products. These contaminants can be removed by tar-reforming catalysts and catalytic reforming processes. This not only cleans the syngas, it also creates more of it, improving process economics and ultimately cutting the cost of the resulting ethanol.

Biorefineries would help utilize the optimum potential of wastes and help solve the problems of waste management and greenhouse gas emissions. Each of these three components could be converted, through enzymatic/chemical treatments into either hydrogen or liquid fuels. The pre-treatment processes involved with these, generate products like paper-pulp, HFCS, solvents, acetate, resins, laminates, adhesives, flavour chemicals, activated carbon, fuel enhancers, undigested sugars etc. which generally remain untapped in the traditional processes.

Prospects in MENA

The MENA region has significant biomass energy potential in the form of municipal wastes, crop residues, industrial wastes etc. Around the region, pollution of air, water and soil from different waste streams continues to grow. The major biomass producing countries in MENA are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Traditionally, biomass energy has been widely used in rural areas for domestic purposes in the MENA region, especially in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. The escalating prices of oil and natural gas, the resulting concern over energy-security, have led the MENA nations to explore alternative sources of energy.  Biorefinery offers a plausible solution for augmenting energy supply, obtaining clean energy and production of a wide range of chemicals from a host of waste material, apart from associated waste management benefits.