Thursday, October 11, 2007

[PBN] Biofuel Overview: An African perspective


Namibia: Plant Oil for Vehicles

New Era (Windhoek)

28 September 2007
Posted to the web 28 September 2007

Prof Monish Gunawardana

International University of Management - Namibia Oil contributes
immensely to the human advancement. Furthermore, oil keeps our
automobiles, trains, ships, airlines and entire civilization on the

However, the world's oil wells are going to dry within a few decades.
Meanwhile, new economic giants -- Brazil, China, India, wealthy
America, Japan, and some European countries - are prepared to buy oil
at any price.

Therefore, to survive and thrive, the developing countries should
consider diverse energy options. This article appraises the
practicability of another energy resource - bio-diesel - that can
contribute to the national energy mix.


Bio-diesel refers to fuel that originates from biological sources such
as vegetables or plants such as soya, corn, maize, rice, cassava, palm
fruits, sugarcane, sunflower seeds and jathtropa seeds. Bio-diesel can
be used in unmodified diesel. On August 10, 1883, Rudolf Diesel in
Augsburg used peanut oil to power his engine. In remembrance of this
technological breakthrough, 10th August has been declared
International Bio-Diesel Day.

With greater confidence in the future of vegetable oil, in 1912 Rudolf
Diesel said: "The use of vegetable oils for engines may seem
insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time,
as petroleum and coal-tar products of the present time."

Presently, the renowned German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen is
working with researchers on the next generation of bio-diesel that
would emit less carbon dioxide and make automobile engines more

Research Progress

In 1977, Brazilian scientist Expidito Parento's discovery helped to
produce bio-diesels by converting (trans-esterification) ethanol. In
addition, Parento's bio-diesel is validated by international
automobile manufacturers.

Currently, Parento's Tecbio Bio-diesel Company is conducting research
with the National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) and Boeing Airbus
Company in the USA on another product known as bio-kerosene, produced
by Parento.

In 2005, global bio-diesel production was 3.8 million tons and
currently it is used to power automobiles.

Bio-diesel can also be utilized to heat household and industrial
boilers. Andrew Robertson, during 'Bio-diesel Expo -2006' in the
United Kingdom, tabled a research paper that explained the process of
converting exiting boilers to operate by bio-diesel.

Asian Trends

To deal with energy security, since 2002 China has been promoting a
fuel-ethanol programme that mandates the use of a 10% blend of

Chinese ethanol facilities use vegetable sources such as corn,
sorghum, rice and cassava.

Malaysia is the world's largest palm oil exporter in the world. The
country has produced 200 million litres of bio-diesel in 2006.
Malaysian palm oil has become a key raw material for European
bio-diesel stations. I am of the opinion, that by 2010, Malaysia will
become the main bio-diesel producer in the world.

Bio-ethanol contributes moderately to Japan's national energy mix. The
country imports vast volumes of bio-ethanol from Brazil. Currently,
Japan is planning the 'E-3 Program' that promotes the use of a 3%
blend of bio-ethanol to petrol countrywide in 2012.

The government of Indonesia has planned to obtain 17% national energy
supply from renewable sources including bio-diesel that has already
attracted US$12 billion foreign investment and US$3 billion domestic

Chinese state-owned National Offshore Oil Corporation, Hong Kong
Energy Company, Japanese Mitsubishi and Brazilian Petrobas are key
investors in Indonesian bio-dieses ventures.

Inadequate power across the continent has created debilitating effects
on the economies of African countries. To face the threat of oil
crises and reinforce the national energy mix, now they are leaning
towards bio-energy.

Duelco, a South African renewable energy company, has signed a
memorandum of understanding with Petromac, a state oil company, to
establish a bio-diesel project.

Bob Geldof, a Western poverty reduction activist, has established 400
hectares of jathropa plantation, which is situated 200 km from the
capital city of Swaziland. To add bio-fuels to the national energy
mix, a few months ago Namibia imported seeds from India to promote
jathropa plants among farmers in the northern regions.

Dangote Sugar Company in Nigeria that owns the largest sugar factory
complex has expressed its willingness for an ethanol plant. Ernest
Janovsky, head of the agricultural unit of the First National Bank in
Johannesburg, is of the opinion that African countries within the high
rainfall belt, such as Angola, Zambia and Mozambique, own huge
potential to produce crops that are suitable for bio-diesel.

Feedstock Yield

The plant-based raw materials used to produce bio-diesel are known as
feedstock. The feedstock-yield efficiency per hectare is a key factor
that decides the cost-effectiveness of bio-diesel as an energy source.
With the current technology, 0.4 hectare of soya beans can produce 375
litres of clean-burning bio-diesel fuel.

Algae give the highest yield of feedstock - 250 times of bio-diesel
litres per hectare than soya beans.

A New Zealand company uses municipal sewerage waste to culture algae
to produce bio-diesel. Micheal Briggs, an American scientist, believes
that oil-rich algae can be grown in sewerage ponds at municipal
wastewater treatment facilities.

The feedstock yield (litres of oil per hectare) of some crops are as
follows: Algae=>47, 500,Palm Oil=>5,950,Coconut=>2689, Jathropa
seeds=>892, Peanuts=>1,059, Sunflower seeds=>952,Pumpkin
seeds=>534,Soya beans=> 446,Cotton seed=>325, Corn (maize)=>172.

Some Arguments

Many African countries cannot allocate adequate arable lands for
bio-fuel plantations without jeopardizing the national food supply.
For instance, the bio-farm boom can threaten food security on the
African continent.

According to Nampa/Reuter, in South Africa, the prices of staple maize
have risen around 40% this year.

Land occupied by Malaysian palm oil plantations have raised from 54 00
hectares in 1975 to 4 million in 2004 and encroached on thousands of
hectares of tropical forests.

Rising palm oil prices have increased the food prices in Malaysia and
Indonesia, punishing the poor. Moreover, the world sugar price is
predicted to increase with the expanding use of sugarcane for

Fossil fuels - coal, natural gas and oil - have been the energy
workhorses that have powered modern civilization for the last 100
years and will continue to play a decisive role in the next 100 years

In relation to fossil fuels, renewables can help to reduce global warming.

Nevertheless, with our current technological knowledge, renewables
energy sources like bio-diesel could never replace conventional fossil
fuel entirely. However, bio-diesel can be a considerable part of the
energy mix.

For earlier posts of Pac Biofuel, check

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