17 February 2008

African Biofuels: What to Expect

The 3rd Annual African Biofuels conference is to be held on 10-13 March 2008 in Midrand, South Africa.The African Biofuels conference aims to:
  • Provide in-depth insight into the growing African biofuels market
  • Offer critical global information for the enhancement of biofuels-related businesses
  • Cover every major aspect of the industry from policy and pricing to feedstock crops and CDM
  • Give delegates exposure to more than 400 peers and over 50 technology and service providers
  • Host a dedicated SMME Workshop for the development of small scale producers___Source
Africa has vast areas of land with great biofuels potential.
...the high rainfall belt between Angola, Zambia and Mozambique alone had the potential to rival the United States as a producer of...bioethanol.

"It's almost as big as the size of the midwest of America. It has the same of type of potential and could actually outperform America___Source
It is important for Africans not to repeat the mistakes of the United States maize ethanol producers.
"Two potential crops have been identified for the fuel ethanol initiative in Nigeria: sugarcane and cassava. Nigeria is currently reputed to be the leading producer of cassava in the world of about 30 million tons annually," states Onochie Anyaoku, group general manager of NNPC's Renewables Division. "The potential must be seen against the background that the average yield in Nigeria is put at about 15 tons/hectare as compared to 25-30 tons/hectare obtainable in other countries.___Source
Cassava and sugarcane both grow well in many parts of Africa. Cane gives much higher yields of alcohol than maize, and cassava fits more growing regions of Africa than maize.
Which crop grown in Africa produces twice as much as maize and three times as much as millet or sorghum? And which crop has seen Africa emerge as overall leader, accounting for more than half of the world output, with Nigeria as the biggest producer? Which same crop has seen production levels triple on the continent over the past 50 years? And now covers one-third of the dietary needs of its population? The answer is cassava.___Source
For biodiesel, we can expect Chinese and other giga-investors to attempt large-scale deforestation in Africa for Palm Oil plantations--just as they are doing in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. But Jatropha is the better oil seed crop for Africa, since it grows in the same fields as other crops--while improving the topsoil from its shed leaves, a rich fertiliser.
Interest is particularly growing in the perennial oil nut bearing jatropha tree, which is viewed as the most feasible plant for dry-land cultivation for the extraction of bio-oil...The plant was often used for snakebites, as an insect repellent and for constipation.

The jatropha tree originates from South America, but was brought to the southern African region by Portuguese explorers....The seeds of the plant grow on low fertility soils in low and high rainfall areas; it has a small gestation period, and can be harvested in non-rainy seasons.

The size of the plant is also convenient for collection of seeds. It produces seeds with a high oil-content (30 to 40 percent) after two to five years, depending on soil fertility and rainfall. According to Mwewa, the plant can yield one liter of oil from three kilogrammes of the nuts, and harvesting can be done over a 50-year period.

The oil from the jatropha plant can be transformed into bio-diesel fuel - which is produced from the reaction of vegetable oil with alcohol in the presence of a catalyst to yield mono-alkyl esters and glycerine, which is then removed - through an etherification process...What makes it more popular amongst protagonists of bio-fuels is because of its toxicity, it is not for human consumption, and therefore not in competition with food crops. Threats to food security are recognised as the primary drawback of large-scale bio-fuels development.___Source

If the Africans can avoid the destruction of large swathes of of rainforest, and stay out of the maize ethanol trap, do not depend on food crops for fuel, and most importantly--do not betray the small farmers in favour of the giga-conglomerates, she may grow into a significant player in the world sustainable energy game, without paying an onerous environmental and sociological price.

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Blogger SwampWoman said...

Too many "ifs" in that final paragraph. I think I can confidently expect Africa to do the wrong thing.

Sunday, 17 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

True. Africa is rich in resources, but poor in leadership and home-grown business and technical savvy.

China wants to become the great Asian father, to control African resources and shape the African future. China has the business and technical savvy to utilise Africa's resources.

But China does not have Africa's best interests in mind, any more than European colonialists did.

Sunday, 17 February, 2008  
Blogger neil craig said...

I hope they do better than the Groundnut Scheme. After WW2 Britain put many millions (back when £1 million was a lot of money) into turning some of central Africa into vast plantations for peanuts - partly out of genuine good wishes for the locals, partly so the empire would be better off. It all ended in tears when it turned out London civil servants didn't understand local conditions.

Wednesday, 20 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

It is a high-risk investment environment. You make deals with dictators who may be overthrown in violent tribal coups next month. Many millions of dollars can be wasted by bribing the wrong dictator or government minister.

No one understands local conditions in large parts of Africa. Given that local conditions can change at the drop of a bullet, the challenge is more than academic.

Wednesday, 20 February, 2008  

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