Saturday, October 11, 2008

Malawi’s ethanol-fuel tests show promise

Malawi has successfully completed a project to test the practicability of using locally produced ethanol instead of petrol or diesel to power vehicles.

The experiment was under- taken in two phases by the Malawi government and privately owned Ethanol Company of Malawi (Ethco), with the first phase involving the testing of a modified Mitsubishi Pajero and the second a flexi-fuel vehicle that Ethco imported from Brazil.

“The tests showed that the performance of the ethanol-powered vehicle is good, just like that of a petrol-powered vehicle. The difference is that ethanol consumption for a similar distance is [slighly] more than the fuel consumption of a petrol vehicle. This is understandable, as petrol is more ambient than ethanol, [but] this should be compensated by the pricing structure,” says Ethco GM Daniel Liwimbi.
He says that, following the successful completion of the experiments, the Malawi government plans to procure flexi-fuel vehicles.

“South Africa, where Malawi gets most of its cars, is working on producing flexi-fuel cars, which would make their deployment easier. We await this further development before moving to the next step,” he says.

The Pajero used in the first series of the experiments was modified to run on 100% ethanol and underwent two tests during which it was ethanol-driven for a total distance of 2 110 km at an average speed of 110km/h.

“The results proved that the Pajero can be powered by 100% ethanol,” says Malawi’s director of science and technology, Henry Mbeza.

The Brazilian-made Ford, which was used in the second series of the experiments, is designed to run on 100% ethanol or 100% petrol or any mixture of ethanol and petrol in a single tank.

Malawi launched the ethanol-driven vehicle research project following a Cabinet directive which came about as a result of unstable prices of fossil fuels on the world market.

“Much as we cannot control the price of fuel on the global market, we cannot afford to just sit down and watch these events as they unfold,” says Malawi’s Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Richard Msowoya.

Malawi currently uses unleaded petrol blended with 10% ethanol at its refineries, and before it adopted the use of unleaded petrol in February 2006, the Southern African country used to blend its petrol with 20% ethanol.

Malawi produces cane ethanol at two plants: the Ethco-owned Dwangwa plant, in the central region, and another one at Nchalo, in the southern reigion, which is owned by local firm Press Cane. The two are adjacent to sugar cane plantations and sugar factories owned by multinational sugar group Illovo.

Each of the two plants has a design capacity of 16-million litres of ethanol but the two factories are producing below capacity because of the low availability of molasses, a by-product of sugar production.

Press Cane and Ethco produce 18-million litres of ethanol a year, which, Liwimbi says, is not enough to meet local demand, should Malawi start using ethanol to power vehicles.