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Ethanol production resumes

FULL-SCALE production of ethanol at the Chisumbanje plant is expected to resume this week while offloading of ethanol stockpile onto the market is ongoing, Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) chairman Basil Nyabadza has said.

BY OUR STAFF

Preparations for the resumption of production at the plant comes after Vice-President Joice Mujuru recently toured the plant and ordered its immediate re-opening, saying outstanding issues would have to be resolved later.

“We are working on the administration aspects, including logistics and hiring of key personnel to run the plant. It’s a synchronised plant working as a 24-hour operation so soon after the Easter holiday, we expect to begin production,” said Nyabadza.

After the plant’s closure in February last year, the facility was left holding onto some 10 million litres of E10 ethanol following low uptake of the product on the market.

Nyabadza said with “enabling legislation” now in place, offloading of the ethanol was a work in progress, a key aspect that would facilitate full-scale production.

A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the ownership of the Chisumbanje ethanol project was recently approved by cabinet and now waits scrutiny from the Attorney General’s office.

The MOA would result in the conversion of the plant into a joint venture in which government would have 51% shareholding and the remainder owned by Billy Rautenbach’s companies.

The agreement follows recommendations from a consultant engaged on the conversion of the project from a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) one into a joint venture.

Initially, the project was a 20-year BOT between Arda and Rautenbach’s Ratings and Macdom.

Government last month gazetted regulations that made it mandatory for all licensed oil companies to sell petrol blended with a minimum of 5% of locally-produced ethanol.

This was captured under Statutory Instrument 17 of 2013.
An inter-ministerial committee chaired by deputy premier, Arthur Mutambara, had proposed the adoption of mandatory blending beginning with 5% and progressively moving to 10% and 20%, setting the way for the resumption of operations at the project.

The committee recommended that only E5 be mandatory while E10, E20, E85 and E100 blends continue as non-compulsory products on the market for vehicles compatible with them.

Ethanol plant a source of discord in GNU

The ethanol plant has been a subject of infighting in the inclusive government. Ministers have argued for months on the way forward after it stopped operations in December 2011 as it had reached the storage capacity due to a slow uptake of the blended petrol.

Finance minister Tendai Biti had previously questioned some aspects related to the plant’s operations while Energy and Power Development minister Elton Mangoma argued that mandatory blending was against the ideals of market liberalisation.

Biti said the price of the country’s ethanol production has a fixed cost structure and questioned how 10% of a flexible product would be determined by cost structures rather than by politics, as is the case with hydrocarbons.

The promoters of the project then begged government to introduce mandatory blending, starting with 10%, as is happening in other ethanol-producing countries such as Brazil, as a way of rescuing it.
They also argued that work stoppages at the plant had put in danger the fate of over 2 000 employees.

Basil Nyabadza said that he believed all government departments were on a similar position regarding the matter.

“I am not aware of any variations, everybody is of a unanimous position,” he said.

Efforts to contact Mangoma pro-ved fruitless as his mobile number was not reachable.

Green Fuel believes the introduction of mandatory blending of ethanol and petrol would make the project viable and assist the country to substantially cut its fuel import bill.

Some consumers on the market have raised concern over the quality of the resultant blend.

green fuel: the pros and cons

Research indicates that ethanol can negatively affect electric fuel pumps by increasing internal wear and undesirable spark generation.
Another weakness is the fact that fuels with more than 10% ethanol are not compatible with non E85-ready fuel system components and may cause corrosion of ferrous components.

However, the advantages point towards support for farmers and creation of domestic jobs.

A vibrant ethanol production industry can also reduce Zimbabwe’s dependence on foreign oil and increase the nation’s energy independence.

Experts say the introduction of a 5% mandatory blending for petrol would save the country US$2 million monthly in imports. Zimbabwe imports at least 30 million litres of petrol per month.

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