There are several very good reasons why Zimbabwean motorists should use an ethanol-petrol blend in their petrol engines.

These include environmental concerns, import substitution, rural employment, greater industrialisation. The world is groping for a deal on cutting greenhouse gases. We are some way from an agreement that will curtail emissions of carbon dioxide to levels that will limit global warming to just 2 degrees, but such a treaty will be in place within a very few years.

And that treaty will require developing nations, as well as developed countries, to limit carbon emissions.

So Zimbabwe will need to figure out how to grow rapidly economically without increasing its carbon output at anything like the same rate.

We cannot expect developed countries to cut carbon outputs significantly if we are not ready to develop in a low carbon manner.

One of the easiest ways of doing this is to use sugar-cane ethanol as our main liquid fuel; some ethanol, such as that produced from maize, does not do much to recycle carbon.

But careful production of ethanol from sugar cane does see around 90 percent of the carbon burned as fuel recycled.

The second reason, and the one trumpeted by the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, is the need to reduce imports.

Many people, now that we are using the US dollar as our currency, do not see any reason to do this. There are, after all, no foreign currency restrictions.

However, if our imports are greater than our exports then we are exporting our wealth; if exports are greater than imports we are building our wealth and our capital.

It is difficult for a landlocked country to compete with the major agricultural exporters, and in any case sugar is almost impossible to export at a decent price because of global over-supply.

So cutting our petrol imports by 10 percent means a lot more money stays in Zimbabwe, and pushes up our economic growth.

In fact, the benefits are even bigger because the ethanol money, instead of going to a couple of refineries outside Zimbabwe, not only stays in the country but is divided among thousands of families.

Zimbabwe can produce a lot more sugar cane easily in the lowveld, an area where crop choices are limited.

A lot of farmers can earn a lot of money if we could grow more; land reform has seen a switch from estates to large numbers of families owning their own sugar crops, allowing them to have a decent life.

But they need markets. Since we cannot eat much more sugar, or export it, this means that ethanol plants are the best new market.

Finally we need to industrialise more, again to create new wealth and new jobs.

Turning cane into ethanol is one of the best ways of doing this.

Oil companies say they are not opposed to selling a 10 percent ethanol blend instead of pure petrol, but need to invest in blending equipment.

Well, they should speed that up, with smaller companies perhaps sharing facilities.

Some motorists are reported to be reluctant to use a petrol-ethanol blend. Well, they have no choice, that is the law.

But other jurisdictions have the same sort of law. Some US states insist on ethanol blend, although admittedly that is to cope with maize overproduction without breaching world trade rules on subsidies.

Brazil has gone the furthest, with all cars sold in that country having engines that can use any mixture of ethanol and petrol, from 100 percent ethanol to 100 percent petrol; motorists actually do their own blending in their tanks, depending on price.

One way the Government could speed up adoption of blended fuels, besides the compulsion now in place, would be to put an extra tax on pure petrol. This would accelerate acceptance.

In any case there is an argument to tax joules of energy, rather than litres of fuel, in the case of petrol and ethanol.

Ethanol contains around 90 percent the energy of petrol, and it is important that a joule of ethanol costs no more, and hopefully no less, than a joule of petrol.

But that difference in energy content is totally trivial in a 10 percent ethanol blend. A litre of that blend contains more than 99 percent the energy of a litre of pure petrol, so no motorist will notice any change in fuel consumption.

So the unquantitative assumption that a tank will last less is plain wrong.

But the Finance Minister should still ensure justice by taxing all fuels according to energy content.

We hope that the teething troubles faced by reintroducing ethanol blend will be swiftly overcome.

The advantages to the country are immense, the advantages to the environment are large, the reluctance to switch is based on bad arithmetic and the usual conservatism when it comes to change.

source: allafrica


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