Ethanol in Africa

Sugar Cane Field below Mountains
Fuel from sugar – ethanol from Sugar Cane
is one of the world’s most efficient biofuels

Editor’s Note: World biofuel production in 2004, which is the last year for which figures are readily available, totalled about 130 million barrels. Nearly all of this was bio-ethanol, although 5% of the total now comes from bio-diesel.

To put this in perspective, this production is equivalent to only 4/10ths of one percent of the total petroleum-based fuel production worldwide in the same year. And as we have demonstrated in Biofuel vs. Photovoltaics, the best biofuel crops currently available only convert sunlight into energy at an efficiency of around 1.3%, meaning there isn’t nearly enough land on earth to allow biofuel to ever completely replace petroleum.

Despite the fact that biofuel, today at least, cannot be an energy panacea, there are regions throughout the world where biofuel is an economically viable enterprise. Both on a subsistence level, allowing farmers or villages to achieve energy independence, and on a vast commercial scale, biofuel crops are being developed all over the world.

In this story, written by Dr. Marianne Osterkorn, Director of the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), a global partnership that structures policy initiatives for clean energy markets and facilitates financing for sustainable energy projects, the bio-ethanol industry developed so successfully by Brazil is being emulated by the Nigerians. This is another example of how biofuel, along with a myriad of other innovative energy solutions, is slowly transforming the world’s energy economy. – Ed Ring

Brazil’s successful development of an ethanol-based biofuels sector since the 1980s, hardly noticed at first, has been the envy of other countries more dependent on oil imports.

The government had the foresight to notice, long before the oil paradigm started to shift towards peak production, that its vast hectares of sugar cane could be put to good use as an ethanol source. Hence, it granted heavy subsidies to agricultural and related industries to alter the source of transport fuels.

Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Logo

Years later, many of those other countries are jumping on the biofuels bandwagon in an era where energy security has risen up the agenda – even the oil-rich country of Nigeria. “Nigeria would be $150 million (about N21bn) annually richer when she adopts the development and application of biofuel as an alternative energy source to crude oil,” states Funsho Kupolokun, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which has been given the task of creating the new alternative industry.

It might seem surprising that the oil industry itself in this country has taken the job on board. In many nations, oil companies sign contracts with the emerging biofuels suppliers in deals based either on mandated biofuels content or tax incentives. However, in this case, the national oil company has been instructed by the government to develop the potential within cassava and sugarcane crops, both of which are plentiful in Nigeria.

National statistics suggest that more than 400,000 hectares of land could support high yield sugarcane operations, for instance. At the same time, Nigeria is a leading cassava producer. The crops would be used in the first instance to create a 10% biofuel-90% fossil fuel blend.

“Two potential crops have been identified for the fuel ethanol initiative in Nigeria: sugarcane and cassava. Nigeria is currently reputed to be the leading producer of cassava in the world of about 30 million tons annually,” states Onochie Anyaoku, group general manager of NNPC’s Renewables Division. “The potential must be seen against the background that the average yield in Nigeria is put at about 15 tons/hectare as compared to 25-30 tons/hectare obtainable in other countries. Moreover, cassava is most perceived as a food crop in Nigeria and not as an industrial crop, part of which the bio-fuel program is expected to radically change.” A step-by-step approach is being followed with cassava to ensure that all technical and market issues are addressed comprehensively.

The plans will be supported by the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), a public-private clean energy partnership established at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, REEEP is providing part of the funds for detailed feasibility studies to establish the supply chain for several new ethanol production plants.

The second proposed crop is sugarcane. Though the cultivation of industrial sugarcane suffered a serious setback due to the poor performance of the government-owned sugar companies (now privatised), there is no doubt about the huge potential for growing sugarcane on a large scale in Nigeria, particularly along the entire length and breadth of the rivers Niger and Benue. The states of Jigawa (northern Nigeria), Benue and Taraba (middle belt region of Nigeria) are targets for further agricultural development, and further feasibility studies are planned for individual locations within each state.

Kupolokun recently met with the Benue state governor George Akume to discuss how NNPC could work to secure land and kick off initial partnerships in the region to generate a programme which would “improve automotive exhaust emissions in the country, reduce domestic use of petrol, free up more crude for export and position Nigeria for development of the green fuel.”

Nigeria is the world’s top grower of cassava
with potential to greatly increase production

He said the company had identified locations in several states suitable for cassava and sugar cane plantations, adding that memoranda of understanding with the government would be signed as soon as agreements had been reached. Akume in his turn said the NNPC’s ethanol project crystallised local development efforts and provided employment opportunities to local people, adding that the programme might also halt the scourge of petroleum product pipeline vandalisation.

Cooperative agreements are on the table between the Renewable Energy Division of NNPC and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (a leading research institute for cassava production) as well as the Nigerian Cereals Research Institute (a national research institute with mandate for research on sugarcane). These agreements will focus on the low yield problems typical of many varieties of both sugar cane and cassava in Nigeria.

Once the agreement is signed, researchers will investigate how to produce and multiply cassava and sugarcane seedling varieties showing improved productivity and the higher yields necessary for sound profitability. NNPC is also looking to create commercial partnerships with local businesses so that negative impacts on food markets are minimised, while also building local support for the long term development of this new industry.

The REEEP-funded pilot project will generate a business model for the establishment and cultivation of the plantations themselves – in particular a 10-20,000 hectare sugarcane plantation fitted with an ethanol production unit making 70-80 million litres annually, as well as an 5-10,000 hectare cassava plantation fitted with an ethanol production unit capable of producing 50-60 million litres each year.

Map of Nigeria
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, may
create thousands of new jobs growing biofuel
(Scale: 1 pixel = 5 kilometers)

Like Brazil, Nigeria is taking a more top-down supply-led approach than has perhaps been evident in other countries, many of whose policies are more market-driven. But the government is not just looking to Brazil for information; it also plans to start the industry up using a Brazilian import partnership. Brazil is to initially supply Nigeria with fuel ethanol in order to develop the market and fuel supply infrastructure. Both countries signed a memorandum of understanding in 2005.

The import reception facilities at the Atlas Cove and Mosimi areas are already being modified in preparation for the distribution of biofuel. The REEEP project, which started this April, will develop just as imports arrive from Brazil, allowing the plantations to grow within a rapidly developing market environment.

These events are taking place within a non-consolidated governmental policy framework, though there are campaigns to change this situation. “The policy environment has always been a challenge in Nigeria, and the biofuel industry is no exception. No current policy framework exists that directly addresses the challenges and peculiarities of a biofuel industry in Nigeria, however, a process for putting such a policy is currently in progress,” states Kupolokun.

New policy developments will involve all the ministries and governmental offices necessary, so that they take into account all the issues related to the various links in the value chain. At this stage, the policy emphasis is to stimulate the emergence of integrated operations showing the most potential for good economic performance. At the same time the policy will aim to set out the best conditions for the development of an outgrower scheme (a scheme that will involve the direct participation of local communities in the production of feed stock for the industry). It will also address access to the best international industry skills and financing available to underpin the sustained growth of the industry.

The new industry has the potential to radically change the agricultural sector in Nigeria, which is currently dedicated only to food production, and will create thousands of new jobs as Africa gears up for what is probably one of its first biofuel and certainly one of its many desperately needed agrarian revolutions. Commenting on the impact of the venture, Kupolokun said the entire process is capable of creating over 200,000 jobs, empowering rural farmers by generating greater earnings.

Marianne Osterkorn

About the Author: Dr. Marianne Osterkorn obtained her Business Administration at the University of Economics in Vienna, and received a Masters of Arts in Industrial Psychology from the University of Michigan. She started her career in the banking sector as a project manager for organizational projects at several Austrian banks. From 1981-2004, Osterkorn was employed by Verbund, the largest Austrian utility company. During her 23-year stay at this company she held various management positions, including 10 years as the International Relations Manager of Verbund where she was responsible for international lobbying and market development; she followed closely the liberalisation process of the European Energy Market. During these years she was also strongly involved in the development of the European Green certificate market and was for several years President of RECS International, a European green certificate organisation. In 2004 Dr. Osterkorn became the International Director of REEEP, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership. In 2006 Osterkorn was nominated to become member of the advisory board of the EU technology platform on Smart Grids.

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4 Responses to “Ethanol in Africa”
  1. olubumi ola says:

    A nice and informing write up. Please can i get the larest update on the value chain of ethanol,justification of ethanol and the future outlook.

  2. chibueze kingsley kanu says:

    We at Zagos services ltd have long thought of a Nigeria that will be among the very countries that uses ethanol energy and as such we already have a Fuel Gel for cooking purely developed from ethanol and we will extend a hand of partnership with an orgnisation like NNPC as to save our environment.

    The cooking Gel has no smoke,odourless,safe, economical and renewable energy

    We are already undergoing certification with the necessary government agencies prior to public release.


  3. HI: I’m Spencer William Henry,a good way of keeping your suger cane and trees is to have water springles station at the most important places where a fire wood start with fire sencers to detect a fair with the springles so you want have a great lost of People ,Trees,Suger Cane ,and importent Business and Homes,a s we are getting close to a great Summre and other people starting fires and lighting that start fires.And this tobaco type Springle method can bring many jobs and increast the ecomony world wide.send 10% of all Ideal making profits to PO BOX 222;Midway,Florida 32343-0222/Phone#850-575-9644/and if there is other Profits send them to all the the sick unfeed children and I will send a part of my % shear to them as well///. With hope .and using your main water sorce and electric water motors pumps connected to the sencers for automatic water flow and save lifes of many firemans as well and other property of your choice.connected to your mail water sorce or ocean using pipes that micro soft is making in Africa selling to the hold world.

  4. oma Ilaje says:

    Who the hell is this mediocre called Spencer William Henry? I have never and I am not and will never be an Anglophile, but your english is very very very very poor. I dont even get what you intended to say. It sounds to me you are one of these semiliterate 419ers. If you do not has a good command of the lingua Anglicana, which should not be a shame at all, why dont you ask some who does to write your ideas for you so we can all get what you intended to say?

    Omo Yoruba ni mi, emi gegebi enikan korira lati fi enia ti ko gbo Geesi s’efe. Geesi kii se ede wa. Sibesibe, ti enia ba nko iwe fun anfani gbogbo gbo, eni naa ni lati kiyesi lati ko iwe re ki o le ye awon enia ti o fe ki o mo ohun idi iwe oun. Eleyi kii se nko ti o pin si kiko ede Geesi bikose gbogbo ede patapata. Nipa idi eyi, emi yio ro o lati tun iwe re ko. Ma binu, toro ti mo ni ni mo ni ki nya o.

    Oma Ilaje


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