Archive for Biofuels economy

Mandatory Blending of Biofuels with Petrol and Diesel

Last week the Department of Energy (South Africa) published draft regulations with regards to blending of Bioethanol with petrol/gasoline and biodiesel with diesel. This should hopefully provide security for investors as well as stimulate the local biofuels industry.

The draft deals with three issues:

1. Conditions for mandatory blending

2. Prohibition of certain actions

3. Records to be kept by licensees

With regards to mandatory blending, the draft stipulates that the minimum concentration allowed is 2% v/v bioethanol in petrol and 5% v/v biodiesel in diesel. This poses a couple of questions, the main one being, from where will South Africa source this fuel until we can produce this locally. My hope though is that this mandatory blending will encourage our local biofuels industries to quickly step up to the challenge while at the same time creating a large number of jobs (if the biofuel blending target was increased to 10%, it is estimated that 125 000 jobs could be created directly).

Check out the draft at

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Biofuels Development at Stellenbosch University

Recently we were involved with the development of an online interactive site to help broaden the public understanding of biofuels in South Africa and our involvement with this particular field here at Stellenbosch University. If you are interested in looking at the site to see what we are doing please click on either the link or picture below to take you to the site.

Click here to go to interactive website

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Comparison between Bio-ethanol and gasoline

In November 2010 I visited Brazil and was interested to see their use of Bio-ethanol as a fuel for transport. I was amazed to see ethanol fuel pumps at all the petrol stations and to see so many flexi-fuel vehicles driving around (Flexi-fuel vehicles are able to run on both gasoline and fuel ethanol at varying mixtures depending on the particular flex engine in the motor car). For me this was very interesting as here at home in South Africa we have only the option of running our cars on Diesel and gasoline/petrol.

So how does fuel ethanol (bio-ethanol) compare to gasoline? Well Bio-ethanol has a higher octane number, broader flammability limits, higher flame speeds and higher heats of vaporisation than gasoline. These properties allow for a higher compression ratio, shorter burn time, and an engine which burns much leaner. These all suggest that ethanol should be better than gasoline in an internal combustion engine (Balat M. et al, 2007)

Disadvantages of bioethanol include its lower energy density than gasoline (Bioethanol has 66% the energy of gasoline), its corrosiveness, low flame luminosity, low vapor pressure (which makes cold starts difficult), miscibility with water, and toxicity to ecosystems (Balat M., et al, 2007)

So what did the locals have to say about ethanol as a fuel? Well I met many people in Brazil who use ethanol in their cars and for them the major drawcard is that it is much cheaper to purchase than gasoline. Although on the down side many of them said that their cars did not perform as well on ethanol as on gasoline. They found that there cars consumed slightly more fuel per 100km and that there was sligthly less power available for acceleration when they used ethanol instead of gasoline.

So the question for me as to whether I would use ethanol over gasoline based on the above thoughts above is one that requires some more thought. I think I would most definately use ethanol based on the fact that it is much cheaper and it is theoretically better for my cars engine. I think most people would be prepared to sacrifice a lower petrol consumption and less power because of this but my main concern with the use of Bio-ethanol would be whether it is a more sustainable fuel than gasoline. But since sustainability is another entire question I will leave that for another post.

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South Africa vs. Brazil

So what are the factors that have contributed to Brazil being the second largest producer of Bio-ethanol (they currently produce 30-35% of the world’s ethanol) after the USA. I mean they have a similar climate to us here in South Africa, they are also a third world country and have an economy that is similar to ours. And yet South Africa is far behind Brazil in terms of Bio-ethanol production.

The main reason for their success come during the oil crisis in 1973 when the Brazilian government implemented what was known as the “Proalcohol” or “National alcohol program”, which was hoped to move Brazil towards energy independance. This program was extremely effective in that today bio-ethanol accounts for around 50% of their gasoline/petrol consumption.

So what made this program so successful:
1. Tax incentives and government subsidies for bioethanol producers.
2. Mandatory mixing of ethanol with petrol, which today is set at 1:3 (E25)
3. Development of flexi-fuel vehicles which can run on any proportion of ethanol:petrol

Interestly enough I was reading the other day on the Department of Minerals and Energy’s website and was suprised to find that bio-ethanol producers in South Africa qualify for a 100% tax return on there bio-ethanol sales which works out to around R1.20 per litre of bio-ethanol sold. I was also interested to find out that in their white paper on renewable energy for 2013, they aim at making it mandatory for petrol to contain 8 – 10% bio-ethanol.

So where does that leave South Africa’s Bio-ethanol economy? Personally taking Brazil as an example, I think in a extremely promising situation and I am looking forward to seeing what happens. A move towards independance from fossil fuels and the price of oil is in my opinion a good one.

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