Agri-tech solutions aim to sweeten the deal for a sustainable energy future

A UK-South Africa collaborative project is on a mission to help turn sugar into energy on an industrial scale.

The project led, by a York-based agri-technology company, is setting out to address South Africa’s energy challenges with a revolutionary approach to its agricultural sector.

York-based AgriSound, a pioneer in agricultural bioacoustic AI technology, is working with the UK Agri-Tech Centre and GYO Systems based in South Africa, to help improve yields of sugarcane through improved monitoring of crop pests.

The project will also investigate the use of hydroponic technologies, all with the aim of increasing growth in bio-energy production in South Africa.

With 85% of South Africa’s energy being generated via coal, the scheme is set to make a significant impact on the production of renewable energy across the nation.

AgriSound will deploy its “Polly” insect listening device to enable growers to track and eliminate the increasing damage caused by destructive pests such as the Eldana Stalk Borer.

The data generated will help growers harvest more abundant sugarcane crops in a sustainable way.

As well as improved pest monitoring, the project will investigate expanding bio-energy production near urban land areas that would otherwise be inappropriate for housing or food through the introduction of low-cost hydroponic technologies.

Dr Jenna Ross, of the UK Agri-Tech Centre, said: “The increased availability of sugarcane has the potential to be used to generate bio-energy, a type of renewable energy with the potential to replace fossil fuels.

“As biomass grows, it absorbs carbon from atmosphere which is then released when incinerated. This makes biomass carbon neutral. Therefore, sugarcane offers massive economic and environmental rewards for South Africa.

“However, with yields seriously impacted by crop pests and excess land-use for crops under heavy scrutiny due to competing food/housing resources, this project aims to solve two pressing local problems in one move all while working with local communities to deliver employment and economic development opportunities.”

The project, led by AgriSound, has received over £200,000 from Innovate UK’s African Innovation Collaborations for Net Zero Places.

Casey Woodward, founder and CEO of AgriSound, added: “We’re embarking on an ambitious mission to pivot South Africa towards a net-zero carbon economy by optimising bio-energy production.

“This project is more than an innovation in agriculture; it’s about reshaping the country’s energy landscape and uplifting its people to continue doing so on their own terms.

“We have begun work this month and our aim for the project is to harness the power of nature-based solutions to revolutionise the South African agricultural landscape.

“We expect it to contribute to tackling the energy crisis and climate change while providing substantial economic and social improvements, and reduce the country’s carbon footprint, all within the span of 12 months.”

Carine Kroukamp, founder of GYO Systems, said: “We are very excited to do this ground-breaking research which has the potential to revolutionise the bio-energy industry in South Africa.

“This will not only solve a part of the power crisis but will provide countless employment and economic development opportunities.”