Ethanol production is becoming an increasingly go-to strategy for countries that are hoping to reduce carbon emissions, decrease the use of fossil fuels and adapt to the decreasing availability of oil and other fossil fuels.
Malawi is in an advantageous position. The country has the opportunity to take a leadership role on this front by moving towards using locally-produced ethanol to generate power for the country’s electricity grid.
US-based power company APR Energy recently announced that it intends to partner with Press Corporation Limited (PCL) plc– specifically, one of its subsidiaries, Chikwawa-based ethanol producer PressCane Limited– to bring clean, renewable energy to Malawian citizens.
The venture builds on the success of similar projects established across the globe.
The world’s first ethanol-fired power plant was launched in 2010 in the Brazilian city of Juiz de Fora, a population centre with approximately 500,000 inhabitants. The plant was powered by 87 MW. After the installation was finished, a test was conducted to evaluate its performance, efficiency and environmental impact.
The results found that there was no loss in power or efficiency when the plant was running on ethanol compared to other liquid fuels such as natural gas. More importantly, there were significantly lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and water usage when the plant ran on ethanol versus diesel or other fossil fuels.
In the years since this launch, the technology has advanced to the point that it can be practically applied on a national scale.
One of the major hurdles that ethanol-to-power projects must overcome is the logistical challenge of having to transport large amounts of ethanol from the production site to the power plant.
In Malawi, this would not be an issue according to Victor Mallet, regional sales director for APR Energy.
“Malawi is in the uniquely fortunate position where a power plant can be located very close to ethanol production, therefore the economics of the project, and cost of power to the consumer, are kept intact and within affordable bounds,” explains Mallet.
The long-term sustainability of ethanol has become a priority of the Malawi government through policies that prioritize reducing the import of fossil fuels and allocate dedicated resources toward smallholder farms that play a key role in local bio-fuel production.
Indeed, PCL itself recently announced the push into the Raw Materials (RAMA) project, an initiative that should increase the availability of feedstock for ethanol production, by empowering and enabling more smallholder farmers to put a greater emphasis on sugar cane production.
The combination of these initiatives will provide the infrastructural support needed to make an ethanol-fired power plant a viable long-term solution for Malawi’s energy needs.
Press Cane General Manager Chris Guta said the RAMA project, apart from providing feedstock for ethanol production, will also support smallholder farmers who will be assured of a ready market for their sugarcane.
“The shortage of molasses in the country means we cannot operate our plant at 100 percent of the installed plant capacity; hence, we are generating less profit, and therefore, we pay less taxes to the government and limit employment,” he said.
The need for clean, sustainable energy is rising worldwide thanks to rampant increases in greenhouse gas emissions and rising fuel prices. As other nations scramble to reduce their reliance on traditional energy resources and prevent further global warming from carbon emissions, Malawi has a clear and practical way forward through the use of ethanol-fired power plants.
The question now is whether current plans to move forward with plant development and installation will be approved by regulatory authorities or trapped in bureaucratic processes. The economic and environmental future of Malawi may depend on what happens next.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :