Biofuels could soon be powering mobile phone networks in the developing world, thanks to a pilot project set up in Nigeria.
The initiative will eventually deploy biodiesel-fuelled base stations in rural regions of south eastern and south western Nigeria, where only 25 per cent of the country is connected to the electricity grid.
The three organisations are setting up a supply chain designed to benefit the local population by sourcing 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. It can be produced locally, creating employment in rural areas while reducing the need for transportation.
Biodiesel also has a much lower impact on the environment than conventional diesel. The cleaner burning fuel results in fewer site visits and extends the life of the base station generator, thereby reducing operators' costs.
"The extension of mobile networks into rural areas is vital to boost the social and economic welfare of the developing world," said Rob Conway, chief executive of the GSM Association.
"Biofuels have the potential to make that happen by giving mobile operators local access to a commercially and environmentally sustainable power supply."
The GSM Association 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.
"To reach the next billion mobile users we need to reach lower-spending segments of the population profitably," said Bert Nordberg, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Ericsson.
"By using locally-produced biofuels, we could significantly lower the cost of operating mobile base stations in rural areas."
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