African Physics Newsletter

Cracking the Problem

The Installation of a Cashew Nut Shell Gasification Plant During the COVID-19 Containment Period

At the beginning of April 2020, during the period of COVID-19 confinement in Senegal, I started a project with Mr. Drame, the Director of the local products marketing company (SCPL SA), to install a gasifier in the industrial zone of Ziguinchor (SODIZI).

Mr. Drame, with the closure of the airports, was faced with a real problem of installing his factory equipment, which was acquired in China and Vietnam in September 2019.

Synthesis gas from nut shells

The objective of Mr. Drame's company is to produce synthesis gas from cashew nut shells. Under my guidance and the coordination of technical manager Ali Bachir Baldé, the project was started in the absence of the supplier, who could not come because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cashew nuts are a major product of West Africa. They are processed locally and exported.

Biomass feedstock

People who are not familiar with this tropical savannah crop are often surprised to discover that the cashew nut grows in its hard shell underneath the cashew “apple.” The shells, which irritate human skin, are usually discarded by artisanal processors, but they can be used to create additional value as biomass feedstock.

In the gasification process, the hydrocarbon molecules in the shell are broken up by using heat, air, steam and in some cases natural mineral catalysts. The products are smaller hydrocarbon molecules and synthesis gas. “Syngas” is a mix of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen and water, and is a valuable intermediate in many hydrocarbon reactions.

A useful eco-fuel

The gasification reaction is exothermic and so can be used in heating and electricity generation, making cashew nut shells a useful eco-fuel.

For the installation of the plant, the assembly team included the director, the technical manager, myself and five of my students, a plumber, a piping expert, an electrical engineer and several mechanics.

Assembling the machines 

So, in the midst of a health crisis and very difficult climatic conditions created by recurring, heavy rains in southern Senegal, our team started assembling the machines. It required first defining a schedule, the study, the translation of technical sheets, and the distribution of tasks for good coordination of activities.

A perimeter was set up for the installation of the various components (biomass gasifier, generator and boiler) of the gasification process. The correct location for each item was identified and measured.

Three months work

The most difficult step, however, was to move the machines to their respective places. For some of these components, which are very heavy, the manager used a crane to move them and immobilize them.

After three months, the team succeeded in setting up the system, and then continued with testing. We followed the operating instructions sent with the equipment, but it required re-editing by the supplier with respect to the stages of the implementation to produce gas.

Lat Grand Ndiaye, University Assane Seck of Ziguinchor, Senegal

Read more about cashew nut shell valorsation:

A. Diedhiou et al., Study of Cashew Nut Shells Valorisation by Gasification, Chemical Engineering Transactions, 39, 1171, 2014

A. Diedhiou et al., Thermochemical conversion of cashew nut shells, palm nut shells and peanut shells char with CO2 and/or steam to aliment a clay brick firing unit, Renewable Energy, 149, 581, 2019

This article has first been published by the African Physics Newsletter -  © American Physical Society, 2020

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