South Africa’s MTN Group, the GSM Association and Ericsson have teamed up to establish biofuels as an alternative source of power for wireless networks in the developing world. The three organisations have set up a pioneering project in Nigeria to demonstrate the potential of biofuels to replace diesel as a source of power for mobile base stations located beyond the reach of the electricity grid.

In a pilot project, supported by expertise and funding from the GSMA’s Development Fund, Ericsson and MTN are setting up a pilot biodiesel-powered base station solution in Lagos and will later deploy biodiesel-fuelled base stations in rural regions of south eastern and south western Nigeria. The three organisations are setting up a supply chain designed to benefit the local population by sourcing a variety of locally produced crops and processing them into biofuel. Groundnuts, pumpkin seeds, jatropha and palm oil will be used in the initial pilot tests.

Biodiesel has several important advantages over conventional diesel as a power source for base stations. Biodiesel can be produced locally, creating employment in rural areas, while reducing the need for transportation, related logistics and security. Biodiesel has a much lower impact on the environment than conventional diesel. The cleaner burning fuel results in fewer site visits and also extends the life of the base station generator, reducing operator costs.

“The early adoption of biofuel-powered mobile networks would place Africa at the forefront of a new wave of innovation that is making mobile communications affordable and accessible across the developing world,” said Karel Pienaar, chief technology officer of the MTN Group. The GSMA and Ericsson will draw on the findings of the pilot to help operators across the developing world determine whether they can use biodiesel to power their networks in rural areas.