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THE refinery and streamline plant being constructed at the Thomro Investment Limited’s ethanol plant being in Kabangwe. PICTURE COURTESY OF THOMRO INVESTEMNT LIMITED

Biofuel to supplement oil supplies

FOR any economy to grow, stable supply of fuel at affordable prices should be guaranteed hence for all sectors need readily -available fuel to operate effectively.
For example, Zambia, which is dependent on imported crude oil urgently need ethanol to drive the production chain.
The benefits of ethanol fuel are probably felt by the rural farming communities where various starchy -based crops are grown and processed, which means that the demand increases resulting in farmers earning more from their produce.
Several crops are used for ethanol production such as cassava, maize, sugar cane and sorghum.
In this vein, Thomro Investment Limited has started the construction of an ethanol production plant in Kabangwe area at a cost of over US$1 million, which will see value addition to cassava and other crops.
Ethanol is used for manufacturing of alcoholic drinks, solvent for paint, varnish and drugs, as a fuel, as the fluid in thermometers, and in preserving biological specimens.
The construction of the plant follows Energy Regulation Board (ERB)’s granting the firm a licence to start production of 15 million litres ethanol annually.
Thomro Investment Limited chief executive officer Thomson Sinkala notes that since Zambia imports 100 percent of fossil fuels, which are petrol and diesel among others, this makes the country vulnerable to external shocks such as increases in price.
Currently, the global price for oil is US$65.81 per barrel.
Professor Sinkala says the importation of fuel has resulted in huge sums of money being spent by Government to warrant stable supply of the commodity.
“We are a landlocked country so certain key basics such as fuel are not available within the country and this means we have to import. This results in Government spending a lot of money in buying the commodity.
“So if we start making our own fuel, it may contribute to the stabilisation of the economy as Zambia will not be vulnerable to any changes in the international market,” Prof Sinkala says.
According to the last update from the Ministry of Energy, Zambia uses about two million litres of diesel and almost 1.32 million litters of petrol per day.
The project is also expected to benefit as many farmers as possible across the country and will initially set up 15 plants, which will have a minimum production capacity of one million each.
To sustain the production, Thomro Investment Limited’s approach will be to establish micro plants across the country by following the farmers who are growing the crop to help them reduce the cost of transport.
“We want to break the plant into smaller units so that we can distribute them across the country…We will use various feedstock, a raw material to supply or fuel a machine or industrial process for ethanol production such as cassava, maize, sorghum and sugar cane among others.
“It [the project] has a number of potential in this country and given the route that we are taking, this will result in reduced wastage as all the components of the crops will be used,” he said.
Once the project is fully operational, it is hoped that fuel will become cheaper and consumers will benefit through reduced prices as it will be sourced within.
The implementation of the project will result in the setting up of value chains were other products will be produced such as fertiliser, electricity and beverages.
Jacob Bwalya, a cassava farmer from Mwembeshi is excited that the project will improve their household income levels.
Mr Bwalya believes that the project will enable farmers in the area produce more as they are assured of a ready market.
“I would like to commend the company [Thomro Investment Limited], which is setting up the project as its implementation will improve our livelihood,” he said.
As Zambia moves towards diversification from mining to agriculture, the dependence on farming will be part of the production system of the project and will be empowered in the primary stage of the value chain compared to fossil fuels, which are imported.
Another farmer, Paul Chilalu expressed happiness on the implementation of the project that it will give the farming community an opportunity to sale their commodity.
“Previously, we used to move long distances to find market for our crops and at times when our produce would have gone to waste,” Mr Chilalu said.
To produce ethanol from dried cassava, every tonne will produce about 400 litres of ethanol.
The project will result in farmers producing more because they will have a ready market and the benefits of ethanol fuel also cover the energy security and independence of the country.
What then should Government do to ensure that the project becomes a reality?