Africa Starts to Gear up for Biofuels
By Francois Tillinac (July 29, 2007)
AFP, 29 July 2007 - Faced with mounting energy crises, many African nations in recent years have zealously launched projects to produce cheaper biofuels, but few have gained steam.
One fervent advocate of biofuels, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, said during a trip to Brazil, a leading ethanol supplier, that biofuels would set in motion "a new revolution in Africa."
Wade boasted that the African continent was set "to be a giant producer of biofuels."
Struggling under the ever-rising cost of fossil fuels while also fighting crippling levels of poverty and disease, Africa hopes biofuels will boost its economic fortunes -- as well as help cut greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say contribute to global warming.
Biofuel production experiments are taking place in many African countries, with a few already investing in facilities.
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the continent's most developed nation, has called for the fast-tracking of biofuel research and production.
South Africa began last July to construct Africa's first production plant for ethanol, which is made from the sugars found in grains.
The first barrels of the biofuel should start flowing by the end of this year, and seven similar factories are expected to be up and running by 2010.
Nigeria, Africa's oil producing giant, cannot afford to be left behind. It hopes to rake in 150 million dollars annually from biofuels once it reaches full production.
Nigeria plans to build 15 ethanol plants with technical assistance from Brazil. It envisions ethanol powered cars in Africa's most populous country by 2010.
Senegal has launched an experiment on colza plantations to produce bio-diesel, and distillation is under way by a Senegalese sugar firm to produce bio-ethanol.
To show how serious Senegal is, Wade has created a new ministry entirely devoted to biofuels and renewable energies. The west African country also wants biofuels to take off because it does not produce crude oil and relies heavily on diesel for generating electricity.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has set up a special commission to study the possibility of producing biofuels in the vast central African nation which cultivates less than five percent of its arable land.
"It is a project which will re-kindle and revolutionise agriculture," said Jean Muding, adviser to the DRC agriculture ministry.
Several other southern African countries, including Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are conducting trials for bio-diesel by pressing oil from non-edible jatropha nuts, which grow on a shrub that survives even in arid conditions.
In the face of such interest, the eight-nation West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) warned in a recent report that biofuel production was "not a solution" to Africa's energy problems.
It said biofuels would remain marginal and could not replace traditional crude oil, but simply complement petroleum.
"It could not reach the output levels needed for mass production of biofuels," said UEMOA.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has also warned that widespread production of biofuel plants could threaten food production on a continent already facing food shortages.
Originally appeared in Agence France-Presse.