Tuesday, December 11, 2007

[PBN] Biofuel developments in Africa

Source: http://voanews.com/english/2007-11-29-voa54.cfm

Africa Looks Toward Biofuels Amid Doubts Over Yields
By Nico Colombant
29 November 2007

Colombant report - Download MP3 (779k) audio clip
Listen to Colombant report audio clip

African government officials, economists and scientists have met for
three days in Burkina Faso to discuss the local production and use of
biofuels. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West and Central Africa
bureau in Dakar.

An official with the Economic Community of West African States, Thierno
Bocar Fall, cannot contain his enthusiasm while talking about one
bio-fuel project in Ghana.

"We are financing a project in Ghana in biofuel," he said. "In five to
10 years we will have one million hectares. Ghana will produce 600,000
tons. It is around 80 percent of the importation of their diesel.
[Can] you evaluate the money that Ghana can save? How many billions?"

Charles Jumbe, from Malawi's Center for Agricultural Research and
Development, says this is one economic revolution Africa cannot afford
to miss.

"In Europe and America, the push for bio-fuel is rife," he noted. "We
cannot sit back and watch. We need to act. We have huge resources in
terms of land and water that can provide adequate biofuels for the next
generation. All we need is to have our national governments get
prepared, and prepare the proper policies and strategies."

Another point the experts and officials agree on, including ECOWAS's
Fall, is to protect the food-producing agricultural sector.

Many in Africa believe the jatropha plant could be a great biofuel crop
for continent, 12 Apr. 2006 (file photo)
Many in Africa believe the jatropha plant could be a great biofuel crop
for continent, 12 Apr. 2006 (file photo)
"The good land is for agriculture," he said. "We have to know that.
The degraded land can be used for biofuel and to plant trees like
jatropha, to develop that."

Andre Croppenstedt, with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, who
has been on trips to Africa to study these prospects, offered a more
sober perspective.

Jatropha, a shrub used for decades in Africa as a natural fence between
crops, has been hyped in the media as a biofuel, but he says it is too
early to tell.

"From what I have heard there was very little knowledge about jatropha
in terms of the behavior of the plant, the plantation level and so on,
how the pests respond, [and] if you grow it at scale," he explained.
"So the people we talked to who were actually into jatropha gave us the
impression that they were going down this road, they were seeing an
opportunity, but they themselves were not quite sure of what the yields
would be like."

Experts at the conference agreed Africa has been looking more at a
small-scale production of biofuel.

Croppenstedt says there are other options besides jatropha, which may be
more economically viable.

"Palm oil, I think in Central Africa, there is some discussion of that,"
he added. "In West Africa, depending on the country, I have heard of
people looking at cassava in the case of Benin, I think [also] sugar
cane. I think the issue then would be what is commercially viable and
probably if you are looking at it now, sugar cane is the one that makes
the most sense, where people are willing to put their money for ethanol."

And the U.N. economist says he believes refining biofuels will be much
easier and cheaper than for other energy products.

"I understand that with biodiesel for example, it is fairly
straightforward, relatively low investment costs, and a lot of simple
machines can either run on straight vegetable oil, pure vegetable oil or
biodiesel," he noted.

He says if proper investment is put in place, biofuels could soon be
produced and used locally in Africa for powering generators, small
appliances and also for rural electricity plans.

Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: http://pacbiofuel.blogspot.com/

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