Despite being caught up in the much publicised “food for fuel debate” – the use of biomass as an energy crop has limitless possibilities in an increasingly energy hungry world. Often overlooked and seldom discussed, the use of biomass as a feedstock in the manufacture of hydrocarbon liquid fuel is now in full swing – with one such project ready for rollout right here in Southern Africa – near the coastline of Mozambique.
Started almost four years ago, and having conducted much local and international research on biomass types and processing technologies, a local South African company chose to use bamboo as the feedstock of choice to make synthetic diesel.
Bamboo in its own right is a completely overlooked biomass resource and yet, due to its true sustainability in that large yields can be harvested every year, it makes for a perfect biomass feedstock. Classed as a “woody biomass type”, bamboo is mostly used in Africa for firewood – where a vast number of species native to various countries grow.
A critical aspect of any forestry development is the cost of plants. The company is in a unique position of being able to supply it’s own bamboo plants at a fraction of the commercial cost.
Grown as an energy crop, in much the same way as timber is grown in plantations, the need for vast tracks of land on which to grow the bamboo is a key requirement. A suitable climate assists in maximizing growth of this incredible plant. Most soil types will benefit from the huge amount of mulch produced whilst growing. The bamboo binds soil and prevents erosion. After much research, the flat plains near the Mozambican coastline were chosen as the project site.
All land in Mozambique is owned by the government and can only be leased. After more than two years of negotiation, the land application has been approved. The company now has the approved DUAT – the land lease title.
Processing bamboo into a liquid fuel is no simple task and requires specialized technology and experienced companies to do this. The company has partnered with several companies, both locally in South Africa and internationally, to develop a significant business plan. The plan involves constructing the liquid fuel plant on site in Mozambique and manufacturing synthetic diesel that will be sold to the Mozambican market.
The diesel produced is Carbon Neutral with a high cetane value combined with low sulfur levels and will comply with European quality standards.
Like many other African countries, Mozambique imports all of its liquid fuels, of which 50 % of the retail pump price is made up of transportation costs, import duties and tariffs. By manufacturing the fuel locally, a significant cost saving component is realized – to the benefit of both the government and the public.
Managing and harvesting bamboo that has to be grown in such volume is no easy task, and the requirement for labour is enormous. The project is therefore extremely labour intensive and a fantastic job creation opportunity. The company has also used the project to ensure compliance with the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals – in terms of humanitarian upliftment and social development.
A project of this nature is also extremely capital intensive and they currently looking for investment partners, who share the vision of helping Africa help itself.
Should you be interested or wish to get involved, please contact Alwyn Smith at SAAEA.