Positive development in Zimbabwean biofuels
Posted by CM on July 10, 2008
by Chido Makunike
Surely “positive” and “Zimbabwe” cannot belong in the same sentence, I can hear you say.
That Zimbabwe is in a mess in many ways is indisputable, but this blog will never tire of pointing out how very few aspects of The Zimbabwe Crisis can be viewed in quite the simplistic black and white terms painted by most of the media we are assaulted by every day.
From The Herald of July 4:
ZIMBABWE’S biggest sugar cane producer, Triangle Sugar Corporation, has resumed ethanol production at its plant in the Lowveld, in a milestone development that is expected to ease serious fuel woes that have been afflicting the country over the past decade.
The ethanol is blended with petrol and the biofuel allows Zimbabwe to “grow” up to 15 percent of its own petrol.
The resumption of ethanol production by Triangle was also expected to meet all the blending requirements by State’s sole fuel procurer Noczim and save Zimbabwe millions of dollars in foreign currency every year.
The ethanol plant at Triangle was decommissioned in the early 1990s following a severe countrywide drought but Government has of late been calling on Triangle to recommission the plant in the wake of prevailing fuel shortages in the country.
Triangle chief executive officer Mr Sydney Mtsambiwa yesterday confirmed that his company had resumed ethanol production, adding that commissioning of the plant to produce fuel-grade ethanol was scheduled for middle of this month.
Triangle produces over 35 million litres of ethanol a year but the figure was expected to rise with increased sugarcane hectarage in the Lowveld.
The completion of Tokwe-Murkosi Dam in Chivi could also further boost ethanol production in the Lowveld as sugarcane production was expected to increase by between 15 and 20 percent in Chiredzi.
The Herald having become a shameless propaganda sheet over the years, one must be cautious about treating anything in it as absolute gospel. The optimistic projections about the contribution the ethanol will make to the country’s fuel requirements must be taken with a grain of salt.
Providing a little more detail about the development, business newswire Bloomberg said well-known sugar cane growers Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Limited would provide the feedstock, and that their South African parent company, Tongaat Hulett, was in the process of “converting a plant in Zimbabwe for ‘a small amount of capital’ to allow it to switch between producing potable ethanol and fuel-grade ethanol.”
I think large scale ethanol production and blending with petrol first took off in the country in the 1970s, during the sanctions against Rhodesia for declaring UDI in 1968. Biofuels are globally controversial now because of charges that the widespread switch of farm land and agro-resources from food to biofuel feedstock crops has significantly contributed to the current “global food crisis” of escalating agro-commodity prices.
But clearly, for a country like Zimbabwe that has largely been cut off from international credit and facing close to a decade of serious fuel shortages, biofuel production is an excellent idea that should be encouraged and expanded.
Hopefully the country’s politicians have enough economic sense to prevent the political disruptions of farming production we have seen over the years, including at the sugar estates that are now turning sugar cane into fuel grade ethanol.