Minimizing the ecological footprint
In order to minimise the ecological footprint, Mashovhela Lodge was built on the already degraded site of an abandoned Venda settlement. Considerable efforts were made to preserve, wherever possible, the existing indigenous vegetation, in particular the trees. Any unavoidable damage (including natural damage caused by the floodwaters of a cyclone in 2000), was repaired, where possible, by replanting locally indigenous grasses, trees and other vegetation, grown from seed or rescued from nearby road building and other construction activities.
Roads, hiking and walking trails are constructed, where possible following previously existing wagon roadways, footpaths, game and cattle trails. Ongoing efforts are made to prevent or repair any damage by erosion.
Eco-friendly waste management
All waste of the Lodge is sorted to recover any recyclable materials (glass, paper, plastic). Organic waste is composted. Sewage is passed through multiple-chamber septic tank systems, where it is cleaned by anaerobic fermentation before passing into amply dimensioned French drain systems. Likewise, waste water from the kitchen is pre-cleaned in grease traps before passing into the French drain system together with other waste water from the Lodge. At a future stage, reusing such water for gardening purposes will be considered. Also, once volumes permit, consideration will be given to recycling grease trap skimmings, used cooking oil and other wastes as biofuels as well as recovering biogas from the sewerage system and composting plant. (See “Renewable Energy”).
We avoid introducing any decorative plants into the Lodge environment which are foreign to the natural vegetation of Morning Sun Nature Reserve. Even the lawns are based on grass species naturally occurring in the valley.
Eco-friendly water supply
The Lodge uses a shallow borehole for gardening and fire-fighting purposes and a borehole drilled 70 m deep into a strong solid rock aquifer for drinking water. The latter water source is of very high purity. Although these water sources are plentiful, guests and staff are encouraged to use this precious water sparingly. Guests are encouraged to reuse their towels and indicate which towels are to be collected for laundering.
Eco-friendly renewable energy
At an early stage the owners of Mashovhela Lodge made a conscious decision not to connect to the public power grid, but instead to use renewable energy, wherever possible, to satisfy the energy needs of the Lodge. In this manner Mashovhela Lodge contributes to minimising green house gas emission and climatic change.
Solar hot water
Two systems are in use: Flat solar hot water panels built according to a design published about 30 years ago by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and a much more sophisticated and efficient system, developed by Dr H H Hahn, co-owner and CEO of the Lodge, based on a recent invention by Helmut Nass and forming the subject of international patent protection. The latter system is about to be mass-produced in South Africa for worldwide marketing. This flat panel system is assembled from black anodised extruded aluminium profiles specially designed for extreme thermal efficiency.
Wood-burning hot water boilers
The solar systems are supplemented by a highly efficient, wood-burning small hot water boiler designed by Dr H.Hahn. In its first test run, this boiler brought a 700 litre hot water tank to the boil in just over half an hour, thus ensuring that hot water will be available even when the weather is bad.
Solar electricity (PV-panels)
The Lodge has a 1200 Watt array of PV panels mounted at an angle to the sun which is adjustable, depending on the season, for maximum output. A more sophisticated solar tracking system is in the planning stage. The existing system charges a 24 V set of batteries (capacity 36 kVA), enough to supply all the lighting and some power requirements of the Lodge. The DC voltage is inverted to 220 V AC (50 Hertz). Guests and staff are encouraged to use electricity sparingly.
The generator house has three diesel generators of 5 kVA, 30 kVA and 50 kVA respectively, any one of which can be used at a given time to supplement the output of (iii) above as needed. In accordance with the policy to use renewable energy wherever possible, the following plans are to be implemented.
As a first step it is planned to collect used cooking oil and other wastes at the Lodge as well as in the neighbourhood and convert these into biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas, care being taken to avoid pollution. These fuels are to be used for powering the generators and vehicles and supplement the LPG needs of the Lodge.
Chemo-thermal gasification of biomass (“wood gas”)
Dr Hans H.Hahn, co-owner of the Lodge, has been engaged for 30 years, first in collaboration with Forschungszentrum Jlich (Formerly “KfA”) in Germany, and later in collaboration with Prof. H. Mosch of FH Giessen, Germany to develop sophisticated, patented technology for non-polluting thermal gasification of carbonaceous solids, in particular biomass and organic waste materials to produce an environmentally friendly, engine-compatible fuel gas. Prototypes are being designed for local production and, when ready, such a plant will produce gas for running the power generators of the Lodge as well as for cooking in place of LPG.
All firewood requirements of the Lodge are met by utilising wood recovered from the Nature Reserve’s exotics (eucalyptus and wattle) and bush encroachment control programs. Otherwise indigenous wood is used only when recovered from dead trees. Wood is used for hot water production, heating, barbecues and, in future, wood gas production.
Mashovhela Lodge serves as a demonstration project for alternative energy. With this in mind, it is intended to install a small pump storage reservoir at an ecologically selected site in the mountain above the Lodge for storing excess power generated by the solar and other systems and recouping this energy when needed by means of a micro-turbine. The small storage reservoir in the mountain could also collect rainwater and, in addition, provide a source of high pressure water in case of fire.
ECO-FRIENDLY EXPANSION PLANS
The management of the Reserve is always on the lookout for opportunities to increase the land available to animals for moving about without artificial restraints. This is achieved by purchases or co-operation agreements with neighbouring land owners who are willing to abide by the rules of the Reserve. One piece of land recently acquired includes ecologically valuable and scenically attractive areas and improves the accessibility of a major part of Morning Sun Nature Reserve. It also includes a portion which at present is completely degraded and can thus be used for development without negative environmental impact. A boutique spa hotel is under consideration there, combined with an ecologically-friendly golf course. The latter is to be achieved by replanting exclusively locally indigenous grasses and other vegetation, requiring little water, but being attractive to indigenous bird life and other animals. Whatever water is needed will be supplied by recycling waste water from the hotel.