Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Sadly and predictably, Zim biodiesel plant produces little

Posted by CM on November 26, 2008

One will have to put up with one of the most annoying phenomena of the blogosphere: the “I told you so” post.

There is a lot of interest in the world in biofuels to replace fossil fuels. Even with fossil oil prices having recently come down to less than $50 a barrel from a recent high of almost three times as much, this is a temporary reprieve and it makes sense to continue to explore sustainable alternatives before fossil oil eventually runs out.

Zimbabwe has particular need to aggressively looking for alternatives, having been largely cut off from normal trade in oil for almost ten years, making fuel shortages an almost permanent part of life, with all the economic and other effects of such a situation.

It would therefore have been nice to report that Zimbabwe was pursuing biofuels more aggressively and successfully than other nations. Alas, the biodiesel plant announced with much fanfare last year seems to be yet another white elephant. The main reason? There just isn’t enough raw material being produced in the country, whether cotton, soya bean, jatropha or any other”feed stock.” This is  hardly surprising when the country is failing to produce enough of its staple cereal, maize.

The Standard of November 22 reports that “the country’s first commercial bio-diesel plant, commissioned amid pomp and fanfare last year, is operating at less than five percent capacity. Workers at the gigantic plant in Harare — once touted as the panacea to the country’s perennial — said they were producing “a few hundreds of litres” of diesel and cooking oil a month. They attributed the false start to an acute shortage of Jatropha, cotton seed, sunflower, soya beans and maize to produce diesel and cooking oil.

When standardbusiness visited the plant just before midday on Thursday, the plant with a capacity to produce between 90-100 million litres of diesel annually was silent.

For the past year, we have been using cotton seed for the production of diesel and cooking oil but it has run out,” said a worker speaking on condition that he was not named.  “We can’t use maize or soya beans because there is hunger. People need them for food.”

At least 500 tonnes of seed oil is required annually to produce the targeted 100 million litres of bio-diesel.
It takes between two and three years for a Jatropha seedling to mature.

“We have to wait for the Jatropha seedlings to mature otherwise we are wasting our time,” said another worker.

Sad but utterly predictable. I told you so.


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