Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, the GSM Association (GSMA) and telecommunications operator The MTN Group are experimenting with using biodiesel to power mobile network equipment in Nigeria.
The trial, announced on Wednesday, is funded by the GSMA’s Development Fund and goes beyond simply running one network node on biofuel. The organizations are setting up a supply chain that includes buying locally produced crops and processing them into biofuel to be used in the project. The fuel will be made from groundnuts, pumpkin seeds and palm oil and will replace diesel, which is commonly used to power mobile base stations in remote areas where electricity isn’t available.
In addition to creating local jobs, biofuel can benefit operators in rural areas, the companies said. Because the fuel is made locally, operators don’t incur the expense of transporting diesel from potentially far away. Biodiesel is also cleaner burning, which improves the performance and lifetime of network equipment and impacts the environment less than traditional fuels.
The project will initially center on a base station in Lagos and later expand to rural regions in the southeast and southwest of Nigeria. Because only about 25 percent of Nigeria is connected to the electricity grid, MTN currently uses an extensive grid of generators to power its network in the country.
The companies involved in the project plan to share their findings so that operators around the world can decide if biodiesel might work for them in rural areas.
The mobile industry is increasingly looking for ways to better serve customers in developing economies as growth slows in traditionally lucrative markets, such as Europe and North America. Mobile phone use in those developed regions has already reached most of the population.
The GSMA’s Development Fund was started late last year to offer consulting support for projects that use mobile technology to improve social, economic and environmental welfare in developing countries. The fund supports projects that can be easily replicated and widely deployed.
The MTN Group operates networks in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East.
-Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service (Dublin Bureau)
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