|Application of Biomass Energy Technologies (HABITAT, 1993, 168 p.)|
|IV. CONVERSION OF BIOMASS INTO ETHANOL|
Malawi is entirely dependent upon an agricultural economy for its export earnings. A major reason for embarking on the production of fuel ethanol has been the continuous deterioration of the regional transport system and the uneasy security situation with regard to Mozambique, both of which have caused frequent petrol shortages. Malawi commenced its bioethanol programme in 1982 utilizing ethanol from a distillery located at Dwangwa sugar mill with a capacity to produce 10 million litres/yr. The Ethco (Ethanol Company Ltd) produces ethanol from molasses and raw sugar efficiently and profitably. Ethco has also provided the driving force for the exploration of wider applications of ethanol as neat fuel, diesel fuel substitute and illumination fuel for paraffin lamps. It has sought to expand the options for feedstock with work on cassava and wood chips.
Ethco currently produces ethanol to supply a national blend of 15 per cent (v/v) ethanol which could be increased to 20 per cent. A production of 20 million litres/yr could be achieved with minimal capital investment by operating the present fermentation/distillation plant all year round. A further option under consideration is the construction of a second plant near the Sucoma estate whose by-product molasses are of little or no opportunity value. The potential exists to double ethanol production immediately and, in the longer term, to produce sufficient to displace the country's entire gasoline imports. The annual demand is approximately 60 million litres of gasoline and 80 million litres of diesel oil (Moncrieff and Walker, 1988). If extended applications of neat ethanol, being tested in a small fleet of government Land Rovers (approximately 1500) indicate that only a modest substitution of diesel fuels in transport and agriculture can be achieved, even then, Malawi could displace as much as 10 to 20 million litres of imported petroleum with ethanol in the medium term.
In terms of feedstock for new ethanol production in Malawi, a report (Steinglass et al, 1988) estimates that surplus molasses and the sugar sold at world market prices would be the cheapest feedstocks and would yield approximately twice the current amount of ethanol produced. Beyond this level alternative feedstocks would have to be considered if the ethanol market expands sufficiently.