Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Zimbabwe’s farmers have been moving towards creating an oil field in the country by planting jatropha, a feed stock for biodiesel. The time is fast approaching when substantial harvests of seed will be available. This seed needs processing, first to extract the vegetable oil, which is not fit for humans, and then esterifying the oil to produce a fuel that will burn well in diesel engines. The technology already exists for both processes.
Several countries in Europe have biodiesel plants in operation for environmental reasons. Biodiesel is useful as a way of absorbing surpluses of rape seed oil, and when burned does not add to the greenhouse gas load. The carbon dioxide from the biodiesel of one harvest is absorbed by the plants growing the next harvest. However, refineries and conversion plants are not cheap.
Setting up the industry is going to absorb a lot of resources, although the result will be of immense benefit to Zimbabwe. So Vice President Joice Mujuru’s call for a partnership between the State and the private sector is most welcome. The State has made most of the running so far, but there is obviously plenty of room for private investment in this exciting new sector.
We now all know jatropha is a viable plant over most of Zimbabwe, including the semi-arid areas. We all know that every drop of biodiesel that goes into our fuel pool will release foreign currency for other desperately needed purposes. And we know from other industries that it is quite easy for private investors in agri-industries, where there is also State involvement, to make reasonable profits.
So biodiesel is one of the new industries that can make a huge difference to tens of thousands of Zimbabweans, from the farmers who grow the trees, through the industries that process the seed, to the whole business sector that will see its perennial shortage of foreign currency significantly alleviated.
As such, we hope that the partnership outlined by Cde Mujuru will be taken seriously by the private business sector and especially the oil and agri-industrial sectors, both of whom have expertise and access to expertise that can do so much to make the new industry a success.
It is theoretically possible for Zimbabwe to become self-sufficient in diesel, although that stage is a long way off. But every percent of the diesel demand that can be met by local raw materials will create a noticeable improvement in Zimbabwe’s ability to grow. At the same time, the growth of an alcohol industry, to supplement petrol, should not be ignored.
While petrol cannot be replaced by pure ethanol, in contrast to diesel where that fuel can be 100 percent replaced by biodiesel so long as temperatures are above -10 degrees Celsius, it is possible to dilute petrol 20 percent with ethanol at our altitude without having to modify engines.
The switch from fossil liquid fuels to biofuels will impact on the petroleum industry in Zimbabwe. If they wish to retain market shares and grow, they will need to be involved in the biofuel industry.
We believe that the best time to become involved is on the ground floor, that is now, and we hope that this industry in particular will welcome the call by the Vice President and will take the Government at its word and start playing the role desired.