The popular investigative programme Carte Blanche has cast doubt on the ability of much-feted biofuels startup De Beers Fuel to produce large volumes of biodiesel.
De Beers Fuel of Mookgopong, in Limpopo – which has no connection to diamond mining giant De Beers – has been claiming production of 6 000 litres of biodiesel an hour.
De Beers Fuel founder Frik de Beer is on record saying that “our current production on the pilot plant is 144 000 litres in 24 hours – we’re running the plant 25 days a month, it is all consumed locally, and we have 50-million litres of diesel on our order book per month”.
Based on these and other claims, the company has sold a number of biodiesel franchises to South African investors.
Many of the franchises were sold under the Infiniti Biodiesel brand name.
The company’s website – which could still be accessed this morning, but has since been removed from the Internet – claimed that “92 plants involving 18 franchises” had been sold.
The company’s website also claimed that five production plants were under construction.
However, when questioned by Carte Blanche, De Beer said that the company had only ever sold 41 000 litres of biodiesel and had 39 000 litres in its tanks, ready to be sold.
De Beers Fuel was a platinum sponsor of the second African biofuels conference, which was held in Midrand last week. The company had a stand at the conference, at which it continuously showed a promotional video in which De Beer and others expanded on the firm’s production abilities.
What set apart the company from other biofuels producers in South Africa was the fact that it had entered into a partnership with GreenFuel Technologies Corporation of the US to locally promote GreenFuels’ proprietary algae technology.
GreenFuels’ technology involves the production of vegetable oil from algae as a feedstock for biofuels.
The successful extraction of biofuels from algae offered a solution to the envisaged shortage of traditional biofuels feedstocks in South Africa, such as sunflower and soy oil.
Investors in De Beers and Infiniti Biodiesel were given the impression that algae was an almost immediate solution to the anticipated shortage of vegetable oil for biofuels production.
However, when approached by Cart Blanche, GreenFuels CEO Paul Rodzianko said that “on an accelerated schedule, from today on, the earliest that a commercial scale facility would be available will probably be the end of next year, to the beginning of 2009.”
When approached for comment by Engineering News earlier today, a spokesperson for De Beers Fuel said that the company was preparing a formal response to the Carte Blanche programme broadcast on Sunday night in which it would comment on the contents of the programme.