THE provision of a framework for conclusion of the Chisumbanje ethanol controversy last week is a victory for the environment. It may not exactly represent the efficiency that environmentalists were looking for, or had anticipated, but it is a good starting point. The announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara last Wednesday that mandatory blending of locally manufactured ethanol will be implemented gradually beginning at 5 percent in two months' time before reaching 20 percent by 2015 gives some guarantee that Government is now committed to act on biofuels.

Although the decision falls short of Green Fuel's expectations, it dovetails with Government's future plans on biofuels, as contained in the National Energy Policy, which targets a minimum ethanol blending of 20 percent within three years. Green Fuel had eyed a mandatory blending of 10 percent. Obviously, many other quarters have been jeopardised.

Foreign investor confidence may have suffered substantially, as Government converted the US$600 million Chisumbanje ethanol project into a joint venture from the original Built, Operate and Transfer arrangement midway through the project.

In foreign investor circles that may be construed as policy inconsistency. Such policy U-turns do not do Zimbabwe any good much in terms of attracting future foreign direct investment, which it desperately needs.

However, the timeframe on ethanol blending means that by 2015 Zimbabwe will be able to eliminate a substantial amount of carbons generated in the combustion of fossil fuels like petrol and diesel. That should be good news for those fighting climate change and global warming because when compared to fossil fuels, ethanol use reduces the production of greenhouse gases by over 90 percent.

More so, as a clean burning fuel, ethanol is non-toxic and 100 percent biodegradable.

Climate activists are pushing for a drastic reduction (and in some instances a complete stop) in the use of carbon-emitting fuels such as oil and coal, which are blamed for fuelling the unsustainable warming of the earth's service. Even when Zimbabwe's emissions are below 1 percent, calls for developing nations to act on curbing emissions growth are gaining ground.

And, if the gradual blending approach is pursued beyond 2015, ethanol could end up constituting up to 85 percent in a litre of petrol at a certain time in the distant future, or completely replace petrol.

That, of course, depends on Government's commitment on promoting the use of cleaner renewable fuels.

In the present scenario, the reduction of carbon emissions from ethanol blending will not only be a key environmental achievement, but also a major cost saver, which will set Zimbabwe on the road towards partial fuel independence. The country will save up to US$10 million per month on the fuel import bill, if the 10 percent blending is adopted.

A sustainable biofuels sector in Zimbabwe would ensure liquid fuel sufficiency, independence and efficiency within the next decade, according to research, while the balance would be exported for foreign currency savings and generation.

When fully operational, the Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant, which ceased production in February will add three megawatts of clean electricity to the depleted national grid. Also, the production of ethanol at Chisumbanje would result in several downstream benefits, especially the promotion of rural agriculture for farmers who grow the plant.

Ethanol is used the world over as a blend for petrol. In the United States, 15 percent of all fuel needs are met through ethanol while South Africa recently passed a law for mandatory blending of ethanol at a rate of 10 percent.

Ethanol fuel is a renewable, clean burning, high-octane motor fuel that is produced by the fermentation of plant sugars. It can be hydrous (wet) or anhydrous (dry).

Hydrous ethanol, which is what Zimbabwe produced before the ban in the early 1990s, is the most concentrated grade of ethanol produced by simple distillation, containing 4 percent water and 96 percent ethanol.

Green Fuel produces anhydrous ethanol - an ethyl alcohol that is free of water, has a purity of 99,6 percent, and is produced using the latest distillation technology.

Anhydrous ethanol is the highest quality ethanol available for fuel with excellent performance benefits.

The fuel grade ethanol used in Europe is anhydrous and is usually blended with lower percentages of petrol, as it mixes better than hydrous ethanol.

Humans have used ethanol since prehistoric times, mainly as the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages. The fuel was first prepared synthetically in 1826. It has been used as a lamp fuel in the United States from as early as 1840. From 1908, some vehicles in the US were adapted to run on ethanol.

source: allafrica

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