Wednesday, November 09, 2011
Return of the blend ... Some of Green Fuels tankers
by Gilbert Nyambabvu
GREEN Fuel -- a US$600 million bio-energy development in the eastern Chisumbanje district -- has launched ethanol-blended with petrol on the local market in a development expected to cut fuel costs for motorists and help reduce the country’s fuel import bill.
The fuel was available at selected pump stations in Harare beginning Monday, selling at US$1.36 per litre, marginally cheaper than unblended petrol, which is currently retailing at around US$1.44 per litre. The government has since approved a blend ratio of 10 percent locally-produced ethanol and 90 percent petroleum, a low-level blend called E-10 in the industry.
“The response has been overwhelming. We are inundated with calls to widen distribution from just Harare to other provinces and we ironing out logistics in this direction to register a national presence,” company spokesperson Lilian Muungani told New Zimbabwe.com on Tuesday.
Green Fuel – a joint venture between private local investors and the state-owned ARDA – plans to build six processing plants at Chisumbanje, each with a capacity of up to 300 000 litres per day, enough to meet the country’s present daily demand of about 2 million litres of petrol.
The project is modelled on the experiences of Brazil – the world’s leading producer of sugarcane-based ethanol -- where more than half the cars on the country's roads already have flex-fuel engines, meaning they can run on pure ethanol or ethanol mixed with petrol, and around 80 percent of new cars sold are of this type.
But blend is not new to the country. Zimbabwe first developed its ethanol industry in the low-veld when Ian Smith’s settler-colonial regime tried to mitigate the impact of international sanctions but the project was hit by the lack of investment as petroleum prices plummeted in the 1980s.
However the country, along with most of the world, has been looking to invest in renewable energy sources, alarmed at the current oil price hikes and security concerns in the main source markets.
Still, blended petrol is not without its critics and Brazil was this year forced to consider reducing its mandatory blending ratio as ethanol prices spiked 27 percent owing to cane shortages blamed on poor harvests and the lack investment in capacity expansion.
Again motorists are concerned about potential damage to their vehicles. Muungani though insists that Green Fuel's product is safe, adding ethanol actually helps clean engines over time.
“Green Fuel is producing new generation anhydrous ethanol (with a water content of less than 0.04%) using the latest technology from Brazil. This type of ethanol is dry; it contains no water and blends easily with petroleum,” she said in a statement.
“New generation anhydrous ethanol (also) ensures cooler engine performance while taking out any residual water from tanks.”
The company says it will also provide support services to help motorists keen to convert their vehicles so they can run on up to 100 percent ethanol.
Muungani said Green Fuel will produce enough ethanol to meet local demand as well as exports into the region and other international markets.
Already the company has invested up to US$300 million in putting up the processing plant at Chisumbanje and about 7,000 hectares under sugarcane, in the process creating some 4,500 new jobs and helping transform a once impoverished rural settlement into a vast and growing agro-industrial centre.