Stale MateThe place we're stuck in now is definitely purgatory.
You can't remember loving me nor bring yourself to hate me.
I can't remember feeling anything.
So here we are, facing off.
I'm positive despite my confidence...
I'll blink and call it the right thing.
It's become a game of avoidance.
I look for excuses to sleep in the other room,
you are always too busy to talk. About anything.
"Is it Stockholm?" you ask me.
Is that an admittance?
Either way, tomorrow it will be... forgotten.
-Rachel A. Osborn
Research in the bioethanol industry, is currently predominantly dedicated to evaluating potential sources of fermentable carbohydrates. The dominant source of carbohydrates currently utilized industrially, for bioethanol production are from first generation feedstocks such as sugarcane and corn. Lignocellulosic feedstocks began to emerge in research, as an alternative to first generation feedstocks and this was fuelled by concern about the fuel versus food debate. The criteria for biomass feedstock evaluation is the following:
In terms of feedstock ethanol yield – this has proven to be a major consideration for final feedstock implementation and consideration. The approximate cost of the feedstock versus the final ethanol yield is an important economic indicator and can lead to the rejection or exclusion of a possible feedstock for bioethanol production.
Currently a major drawback to the universal implementation of bioethanol is the unfavourable price comparisons to that of fossil fuel based fuels. A major causal effect of the biofuel price, is the feedstock price. In terms of bioethanol feedstock production, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugarcane. In terms of production numbers, Brazil cultivated 6.45 million hectares of sugar cane crop and three million hectares or 46.5 % of this was devoted exclusively to the bioethanol market. Brazil and the USA are the top global producers of bioethanol and 62% of the ethanol produced globally, comes from these countries.
In terms of the South African context, the Biofuels Industrial Strategy of South Africa released in 2007, recommended the use of first generation feedstocks such as sugarcane or sugar beet for bioethanol production (DME, 2007). The targets set in the strategy have still not been met, even though mandatory blending targets have been set for October 2015.
It has also been predicted that the transport sector in South Africa will grow significantly and as a result - the demand on engine fuel will increase significantly. Thomaschek et al conducted a study which evaluated the relative costs of biofuel production against fossil fuel costs, and projected product prices. The study showed that the product price of ethanol produced from sugarcane or sugar beet was R 0.27 and R 0.34 MJEthanol-1 whereas the petrol price was 0.20 ZAR MJPetrol-1. The study also mentioned that the product price was very much dependent on the feedstock used for biofuel production.
It has been suggested that South Africa emulate the Brazilian example with regards to bioethanol, since the bioethanol programme was so successful in Brazil.
However, there are a few significant differences between the two countries which may require a tailoring of the example to fit South African specific needs.
A marked difference between South Africa and Brazil, is the available fresh water supply. South Africa has a fresh water supply of 50 billion litres and Brazil has a fresh water supply of 8000 billion litres. Another key difference is the population, South Africa has approximately 50 million people whereas Brazil has a population of 200 million people. Also Brazil has a much lower unemployment rate at 10% compared to the 20% unemployment rate in South Africa. All these factors need to be taken into consideration if South Africa is going to emulate the Brazilian example and adaptations to policy for example, in order to suit the unique South African condition, needs to be formulated.
Ethanol as a biofuel can be classified as either anhydrous – which is ethanol used in combination with fossil fuel based petrol as a blend, or as hydrous ethanol – which is utilized solely in vehicles with engines modifications or flexible fuel vehicles (FFV). It has often been recommended that countries wanting to implement biofuels, on a large scale need to develop two separate markets for the two bioethanol types.
In terms of the South African context, Fiat was the first vehicle manufacturer to launch a flexible fuel model in South Africa, however only one unit was available and it was solely for demonstration purposes. There have been no initiatives since, to introduce the flexible fuel models to the South African market on a large scale, which has implications of course when considering the hydrous fuel route.
There are also considerations with regards to the types of distilleries ultimately utilized for bioethanol production. There are two major types of distilleries utilized in order to produce sugarcane from bioethanol namely: annexed and autonomous. An annexed distillery is usually located next to a primary sugar mill and the main purpose of an annexed distillery is to produce sugar with ethanol as a by-product/extra product. This is largely possible, due to the fact that industrial ethanol production and sugar production share common systems such as boilers and effluent treatment. An autonomous distillery is a distillery that is solely dedicated to ethanol production.
An annexed distillery is considered to be the more financially stable with less associated risks since in times of price fluctuations, it provides flexibility in product choice. Even though the capital costs of an annexed distillery is more expensive than an autonomous distillery since the distillery is integrated into the more expensive sugar mill, from a historical perspective even Brazil, which has a large market for ethanol has converted most of its distilleries to an annexed type.
The sugarcane industry in South Africa, is one of the most prominent and significant agricultural industries in the country, and approximately 2.5 million tonnes are produced per annum. The contribution the sugarcane industry makes to the South African economy is six billion South African rand annually. The industry contributes directly to the employment of 85000 people in terms of sugarcane production and sugarcane processing. The indirect job creation from the sugarcane industry is also significant and these jobs are created through downstream processing and support industries such as fertilizer, chemicals, transport and food industries. The total production value of sugarcane was R4.42 billion during the 2008-2009 period in South Africa and sugarcane made up a total of 3,38 % of the total value of production for all agricultural commodities.
The growth of the industry is at 7.18% annually and the biofuel side chain has the potential to contribute to added growth of this market if managed sufficiently and supported by policy and tariffs.
There are 14 mills in South Africa dedicated to sugarcane processing. Sugarcane has increasingly become a valuable export product in the South African export portfolio. The main province in South Africa, where sugarcane is cultivated is Kwazulu-Natal. Approximately 20% of the sugarcane crop grown requires irrigation whereas the rest of the crop relies solely on rainfall. This has positive implications for the cultivation of sugarcane crop since South Africa is a water scarce country with limited available water resources.
Sweet sorghum is another promising potential first generation feedstock, which could be utilized for ethanol production. It is cultivated mainly in the Southern African regions and in China. It has a shorter growing cycle than that of sugarcane, can be cultivated as an intercrop with sugarcane, it is drought resistance, low on water requirements and is considered to be a good potential feedstock for ethanol production.
A feedstock that could possibly also be channeled to bioethanol production in South Africa is citrus fruits. Recently the European Union decided to ban S.A citrus fruit imports due to concerns over fungal disease fears. The export market is huge - South Africa exports about 600 000 tons of citrus fruit - and this amount will not be able to be absorbed by the local fruit market. This means that there is a possibility for adding a bioethanol route to the current supply to market chain for citrus fruits in South Africa. This would help alleviate losses due to the lack of exports.
Lignocellulosic feedstocks are also set to have a promising future in the industry. In the South African context – the lignocellusic feedstocks that would be most suitable for consideration from an economic analysis point of view are sugarcane bagaasse and sweet sorgum bagasse. Since the actual crops are grown on a wide scale in South Africa and thus data is available for market analysis. A greater percentage of the sugarcane crop and sweet sorghum crop could be utilized if the lignocellulosic parts were also incorporated into bioethanol production, thus cutting down on additional feedstock cost and contributing to greater ethanol yields from a single feedstock.Regarding the Brazilian example, by the year 2025, Brazil alone is predicted to produce 104 billion litres of ethanol, a number that incorporates ethanol production from lignocellusosic feedstocks. Currently for every hectare of sugarcane cultivated in Brazil, this could yield about 6000 L of ethanol and production costs of US$0.25 to 0.30/L. It is estimated that one tonne of sugarcane produces 280 kg of bagasse.
There are many economic indicators that need to be quantified when considering feedstocks for ethanol production. In the South African context, since first generation feedstocks are the preferred option, the exact effect on food prices needs to be estimated. Decisions also need to be made on whether ethanol production equations will be calculated in terms of allocated land or allocated percentage of the total output of sugarcane annually.
Additionally decisions would have to be made on whether to implement a hydrous market for ethanol or an anhydrous market. In terms of the Biofuels Industrial strategy of South Africa, the principle policy thus far advocates an anhydrous strategy. It would be recommended to start with the available biomasses specified at the 8 percent blending level or E8 recommended for bioethanol in the Biofuels Industrial strategy of South Africa.
It would be advantageous to start production with an anhydrous sugarcane based industrial strategy with sweet sorghum as the alternative integrated crop. This would require annexed distilleries and policy promoting the conversion of current sugarcane mills to annexed distilleries would be beneficial to the bioethanol market.
Concurrently flexible fuel vehicles need to be introduced, in order to accommodate increased blending levels. Once the blending levels have reached 50%, the lignocellulosic by-products from these two industries should also be incorporated and utilized for bioethanol production. The 50% target should take approximately five years from 2015 (the mandatory blending date set), by then the lignocellulosic pretreatment options should have improved immensely.
An incremental approach is the best recommended approach for bioethanol implementation in South Africa, to commence with the 8% penetration target and consequently implement second generation lignocellulosic feedstocks and increase the target to 50% until a full hydrous market target is reached. Every percentage target should be accompanied by legislation that matches the current ethanol market and this legislation should govern ethanol subsidies for farmers as well as fuel tariffs. Once the 100% ethanol solution is implemented – the market would be fully developed and by that stage – possibly 2025, there would no longer be a need for tariffs since the bioethanol market would be fully competitive with the fossil fuel based petroleum in South Africa.
South Africa has had mandatory blending dates set for 1 October 2015, in order to ensure the targets are met this time, a cohesive strategy is needed, that includes selection of feedstocks, implementation proposals and consideration of all the key economic indicators. These initiatives are needed in order to ensure the sustainable and economical future of bioethanol in South Africa.
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