Trade mission to Cuba helps develop renewable energy resources

From left to right: Julian Bell, SAC; Wilf Mitchell, Heriot-Watt University; Peter Hall, University of Strathclyde; Martin Tangney, Edinburgh Napier University; and Andrew Macdonald, Havana EnergyDr Wilf Mitchell of the School of Life Sciences recently participated in a trade mission to Cuba to discuss the government's plans to turn an invasive weed into a valuable energy crop.

The trade mission was funded by Scottish Development International and hosted by UK investment group Havana Energy, who are working with the Cuban government to develop renewable energy resources on the island.

The delegation also included participants from Edinburgh Napier and Strathclyde Universities, the Scottish Agricultural College and private consultancy, and aimed to identify where Scottish research and consultancy expertise could help Cuba control, harvest and utilise the invasive African shrub called marabu.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, demand for Cuban sugar has collapsed leading to the abandonment of millions of hectares of prime arable land and the loss of vital export earnings and jobs. Efforts to restore land to productive use have been hampered by a number of problems including the spread of marabu, which currently occupies an area of one million hectares.

The mission was specifically looking at the potential of marabu for energy generation, but also discussed new initiatives in the sugar cane industry including development of an 'energy cane' variety with a high fibre content.

The team met government officials and visited stands of marabu, harvesting operations, sugar mills and energy crop trials in the centre of the country. Follow-up testing and feasibility studies are now in progress.