Biofuel options for the Free State

More than 1 million hectares are still available for grain production in the Free State, which could be used to manufacture renewable energy such as biodiesel or bioethanol.

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So said Prof Carlu van der Westhuizen, director of School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences of the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein.

Speaking at Free State Agriculture’s Alternative Energy Day, Prof Van der Westhuizen said biodiesel is the only viable alternative for mineral-based diesel in agriculture. When fossil fuels become unavailable it will be the key to food security.

“It is technically very difficult to manufacture biodiesel to SABS standards,” he explained. “Fuel companies will happily buy biodiesel, but they will not pay more than the basic fuel price, which is generally about R2 below pump prices.
“Soya beans are an ideal feedstock for cost-effective biodiesel production. However, soya bean production in the Free State is limited, unless new cultivars tolerant to eelworm can be developed.”

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Prof Van der Westhuizen was part of a multi-disciplinary team that looked into the potential of renewable energy sources in the province on behalf of the minerals and energy department. The team has since recommended that biodiesel be investigated as an emergency fuel to replace diesel, but should only involve relatively large processing plants to ensure top quality and sustainability.

However, the task team regarded bioethanol gel much more favourably. “It has so many advantages that it warrants further investigation. Deaths and runaway fires in informal settlements are often caused by paraffin. Ethanol gel is much safer for heating and cooking,” said Prof Van der Westhuizen.

The team also recommended exploring other crops for bioethanol gel because of government’s resistance to maize.