Most of the larger fuel companies have started selling the petrol-ethanol blend known as E10, a reference to the percentage of ethanol, amid hopes that Zimbabwe would soon be able to substitute 10 percent of its petrol imports with a home-grown fuel.

There is even a serious marketing campaign for the fuel, centred on its lower environmental impact.

Sugar-cane ethanol recycles a major percentage of the carbon dioxide emitted when it is burned, allowing any driver of a petrol car to reduce their carbon load significantly.

The pricing is good. E10 with around 99 percent of the energy of an equivalent volume of pure petrol costs 4c a litre less, allowing any driver of a petrol vehicle or any owner of a fleet of such vehicles to cut their fuel bill by 2 percent. That can mount up to a few nice Christmas presents over a year.

But few Zimbabwean motorists appear interested. Those driving into service stations frequently find a queue at the petrol pump while the E10 pump is sometimes not even manned.

Now Greenfuel, which makes the fuel at Chisumbanje, has had to stop production having hit the limit in its storage capacity with 10 million litres of pure ethanol unsold.

The advantages to Zimbabwe are significant. More farmers can now grow sugar cane viably, and we need to remember that with land reform these farmers are almost all small-holders.

Sugar production is limited by the ridiculously low prices on international markets. Only sugar sold in Zimbabwe, the small amounts exported under special deals and now the ethanol plant can provide a fair return to a farmer.

These farmers are earning money that would otherwise be earned by oil workers, refining companies and ship owners in other countries. And sooner or later those farmers are going to spend their money, in Zimbabwe.

Secondly, ethanol production allows Zimbabwe to reduce its import bill. Although we now use hard currencies, so shortages of foreign exchange are not a problem, we still need to remember that if we import more than we export then we are sending our savings to other countries. We are, as a nation, getting poorer because this is exactly what we are doing.

Cutting our petrol imports by 10 percent makes a significant difference, helping accelerate economic development.

Finally there is the environmental impact. Zimbabwe is unfortunately one of those countries that will suffer with global warming. We as a nation support strongly efforts that see reductions in the global emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

There is little that a small poor country can do, but it can set an example so that when we make our calls at least we should have the moral authority to do so.

A modest ethanol blend can be used in any petrol engine. In parts of America's mid-west maize belt it is compulsory to blend petrol, admittedly as a way of subsidising maize farmers. But American motorists buy and use the stuff.

Brazil has been a world leader in ethanol fuels, going as far as forcing car makers to design engines that can burn any mix of petrol and ethanol, from 100 percent of one to 100 percent of the other.

For more than a decade, during the 1980s, all petrol sold in Zimbabwe was a petrol-ethanol blend, with the ethanol percentage sometimes reaching 20 percent. No one minded. All cars worked as designed. It was only the great drought of the early 1990s that stopped this experiment.

Some now think that returning to a mandatory regime, like those American states and like Zimbabwe in the 1980s, is needed. The advantages are large; there are no disadvantages.

This must be considered.

We did something similar when we banned lead additives in our petrol and it did not take long for the oil companies to comply. So the authorities need to think about this most seriously.

At the same time we need to educate our motorists. The name-switch from "Blend" to E10 is welcome, giving information that any driver should have, but must be explained. A 10 percent ethanol blend cannot harm a car.

Environmental considerations do not, regrettably, carry much weight with Zimbabweans, especially Zimbabwean motorists. We suspect the lower fuel costs will be far more important to Zimbabwean drivers. It is cheaper, both in litre terms and in energy terms, to use E10.

Even if mandatory blending has to be introduced, that educational campaign will be needed.

But we think that simply knowing there is a cleaner, cheaper fuel that does no harm to cars and helps provide a decent living or a good job to thousands of fellow Zimbabweans must just do the trick. Word of mouth could do the rest.

But if logic does not work, then we must make blending compulsory, but continue to ensure that the blends are correctly labelled, as E10 already is. E15 should be cheaper still and E20 could certainly be a useful money saver on the highveld.

We hope the industry and the Government will join forces, explain the advantages, explain that there are no disadvantages, and get Zimbabweans to switch, preferably by persuasion but by compulsion if need be.

source: allafrica


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