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Oct 13, 2008

Biofuels singled out as 'best option' for alternative fuels in SA

© Reuse this The South African National Energy Research Institute’s (Saneri’s) programme manager for green transport has labelled biofuels as the country’s number one short-term option for alternative transport fuel.

Dr Titus Mathe said that, although the country had a range of alternative fuels available, biodiesel was very comparable to petrol and diesel in terms of energy content. It also offered a favourable impact on energy security, as it could be locally produced.

Mathe stated that implementing biodiesel in the transport sector would offer up the potential for upstream job creation, especially in rural areas. “Biodiesel can also make use of existing infrastructure, so there is not much we have to invest in terms of infrastructure.”

Compared with vehicles fuelled with conventional diesel an petrol, biodiesel offered up a 78% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, and a 10% to 48% reduction in particulate matter. Carbon monoxide emissions were also reduced by 47%.

He noted, however, that biofuel production had to be monitored to ensure that producers were not using food crops or farm areas dedicated to food crops, for producing biofuel.

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) was rated as South Africa’s second best option for alternative transport fuel. It was readily available and safe to use, while also offering up significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Mathe stated that although LPG was readily available, the product itself had not taken off in the local market. However, he did not offer up an explanation for this.

Although hydrogen was actively being pursued as an alternative fuel source, it was more suitable to the long-term outlook. “This does not mean that we should stop with they hydrogen research, already there is research and development strategies looking at the cost of producing generic hydrogen.”

Hydrogen also offered zero emissions at the point of use, but greenhouse gases and toxic emission were emitted during the production and transportation of the fuel.

Mathe noted that no regulatory framework was in place yet for a hydrogen fuel economy, and that the fuel was expensive to produce. South Africa also currently has a lack of storage facilities for this gas.

In 2007, South Africa’s demand for liquid transport fuels rose to 23 707-million litres, while State-owned power utility Eskom’s gas turbine power plants demanded about 600-million litres.

Mathe stated that the transportation fuel market represented about 53% of the world’s refinery product demand, and the share of transportation fuels in the oil market was projected to increase further in the coming decades.

“Therefore, transportation fuel demand will increasingly determine the demand for crude oil, affecting the price of crude oil.”

Mathe added that the world energy outlook for 2004 predicted that there was sufficient oil resources in place for the period up to 2030, after which it was unclear how oil production would develop.

“Going into the future, there is going to be a shortage of liquid fuels. There are plans to increase the capacity of liquid fuels, but hopefully the production of alternative fuels would help in mitigating the situation.”

Edited by: Liezel Hill
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