Benefits of ethanol fuel

Motorists can use ethanol fuel that is made from sugarcane instead of over-relying on the imported fossil fuels currently in use, which are not only expensive, but also environmentally unfriendly.

National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) says it has submitted a report to Cabinet. If approved, motorists will have options on the type of fuel to use.

Migration from total dependency on petrol has economic benefits, as the NCST report indicates.

“With 25 percent of total fuel requirements being met by ethanol, the country is expected to save about K13.497 billion per year which translates to $87 077 419 in foreign currency by 2015 at the current exchange rate [before 2012 kwacha devaluation] assuming that 20 percent ethanol blending ratio is mandatory and 10 percent of petrol vehicles are flexi,” indicates the EDVP report.

NCST director general Dr. Henderson Chimoyo said the future of Malawi with vehicles that run on ethanol fuel looks brighter.

“If government nods to the fuel usage, motorists will have a chance to buy the fuel they prefer,” he said.

Ethanol fuel, derived from sugarcane, is renewable unlike fossil fuels such as diesel and petrol.

“It is true that the report was finalised and submitted to Cabinet,” confirmed Catherine Chaweza, NCST public relations officer.

Already three vehicles—a Mitsubishi Pajero MG 453S, Ford Ecosport registration number Ethco 1 and Nissan Tiidas 72 SC 7—have run on this locally-produced fuel.

“When the country went through a fuel shortage crisis, I and my colleagues were able to drive the Commission’s car which runs on ethanol,” said Chimoyo in his office in Lilongwe.

Currently, ethanol is produced at Dwangwa in Nkhotakota and Dyeratu in Chikhwawa, which are the main sugarcane-growing districts catering for Illovo Sugar Company.

Since 2006, Malawi has been working on a feasibility study to determine whether the country can have cars that run on ethanol fuel, said Chaweza. The results have shown that ethanol fuel is feasible and cost effective for the country.

The government-funded Ethanol Driven Vehicle Project (EDVP) was to run up to 2011. It was done in collaboration with Lilongwe Technical College, Ethanol Company Limited, Presscane Limited, Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera), Plant and Vehicle Hire Organisation (PVHO) and Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS).

The results revealed that the cost per kilometre travelled was lower for vehicles running on ethanol than on petrol despite vehicles running on petrol covering a longer distance per litre than those running on ethanol.

The cost of servicing a flexi vehicle is found to be similar to that of servicing conventional motor vehicles as the price for ethanol compliant spare parts (filters and plugs) is not different from that of conventional parts.

Importation of oil incurs international transportation costs while ethanol does not, since it is produced locally and storage reserves are readily available to handle the ethanol blends up to 20 percent.

In Malawi, ethanol is currently produced from molasses, a by-product of sugar. However, scientists also say there is potential to make ethanol from crops such as sweet sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, wheat and maize.

Apart from Malawi, other countries such as Brazil and US are working on transferring dependency on fossil fuel to ethanol, which, as studies reveal, is renewable and less pollutant to the environment.

Experience has shown that Malawi is vulnerable to both domestic and international shakes in the oil industry. For instance, when global fuel prices rise or fall, pump prices of fuel in the country also change.

Lack of forex as experienced in the near past has also shown Malawi’s vulnerability when it depends on the imported fuel, which would not have been a problem if it were ethanol fuel.

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