“Such a mix of ethanol with petrol has resulted in economic gains that include reduction in the levels of imported petrol.”
Ethiopia wants to emulate Brazil by developing biofuels to cut its dependence on oil imports that cost the Horn of Africa nation more than a billion dollars a year, a government official said.
Ephrem Hassen, co-ordinator of biofuels development in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told Reuters in an interview that Ethiopia was developing biofuel crops on more than half a million hectares of arid land.
“Castor oil plants, jatropha and palm oil plants are being developed over 500,000 hectares of arid and barren lands in different parts of the country so as to reduce landlocked Ethiopia’s dependency on imported oil,” Ephrem said.
The two major biofuels are petroleum substitute ethanol, which is mainly produced from grains and sugar crops, and biodiesel for which the major feedstocks are vegetable oils.
Brazil began its sugar cane-based ethanol program 30 years ago after the world oil crisis sent its economy into a
nosedive. It now has the most advanced biofuels program in the world with more than 30,000 filling stations that offer pure ethanol fuel and gasoline blended with 20 to 25 per cent ethanol.
Ephrem stressed that Ethiopia’s program would not use land fit for food product ion. Ethiopia suf fers from food shortages and the government appealed last month for 159,410 tonnes of food to feed some 6.2 million Ethiopians hit by drought.
Non-food crops such as jatropha can be grown on semiarid land and pose less of a threat to food product ion than other biofuel feedstocks such as grains and vegetable oils.
Ethiopia has also earmarked some 1.6 million hectares of fertile land for foreign investors willing to develop modern farms with a view to making the country food self-sufficient and for boosting agricultural exports.
Ephrem said investors were developing biofuels on tens of thousand of hectares of land in the western regions of Gambella and Benishangule and in the Tigray and Amhara regions.
In addition, four stateowned sugar estates at Methara, Wonji, Finchaa and Tendaho, have been scaled up to boost their ethanol output, he said.
The country has a limited amount of ethanol produced as a byproduct from sugar industries which has been blended with petrol and used as transport fuel, he said.
“Such a mix of ethanol with petrol has resulted in economic gains that include reduction in the levels of imported petrol,” Ephrem said.
HAY IS FOR HORSEPOWER: An Ethiopian farmer carries a burden of hay near Infraz, south of Gondar. Officials hope to convert semi-arid land to growing non-food biofuel crops such as jatropha to reduce the country’s reliance on imported oil.