African Renewable Energies, a small London–based firm, aims to help poor communities in developing countries earn money and generate electricity from the innumerable rubbish tips around African cities.

The idea is to cover landfill sites with thinfilm solar phovololtaic cells printed on to the flexible membranes used to cap landfills.

Landfills in Africa are often open dumps without leachate or gas recovery systems. Many are located in ecologically or hydrologically sensitive areas and are operated with below-standard sanitary practices.

The solar landfill covers are based upon the use of a single membrane as an integrated and cost-effective solution designed to extract methane from dumpsites and exploit the same land area for solar power generation. Methane extraction is capable of delivering power for 15 to 20 years. This is complemented by low maintenance power provision for a minimum of 25 to 30 years by the solar component.

For every 10 megawatts of power generated by the conversion of landfill gas-to-energy, more than twice as much solar power can be produced during the day when it is most needed. This approach exploits two of Africa’s most plentiful resources – urban waste and solar irradiation.

Trials now taking place in Italy, the US and Nairobi.