Jun 15, 2007
‘Dead’ biofuel-from-algae initiative leaves a stinkBack
© Reuse this
Most investors in the company, who invested up to R6-million each in biodiesel plants, in what was trumpeted to be the world’s first fuel-franchising scheme, today have nothing but paper to show for their money.
As far as Engineering News can establish, not one plant has been built.
The amount of money lost by investors, and the number of investors who have lost money, could not be determined owing to conflicting information on the value and number of plants sold.
De Beers Fuel – which has no connection with diamond-mining giant De Beers – marketed the concept under the Infiniti Biodiesel brand name.
Shareholders were promised plants capable of producing tens of thousands of litres of biodiesel every day, and exclusive offset areas.
These plants would initially process conventional vegetable oils, like sunflower oil.
However, from the company’s public launch onwards, a more exciting, if somewhat strange, source of alternative feedstock was punted – algae.
De Beers Fuel started a relationship with Green- Fuel Technology Corporation, of the US, which had been working on the development of a strain of algae suited to the production of biofuels.
One of the founders of GreenFuel Technology, Dr Isaac Berzin, researched the use of algae on the International Space Station and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Berzin and GreenFuel Technology inter- national MD Paul Rodzianko visited South Africa in November.
De Beers Fuel founder Frik de Beer and adviser to the company’s board, Hendy Schoon-bee, sang the praises of algae as a feedstock for biofuels production during a media visit to the company’s demonstration algae bioreactor in Mookgopong (formerly Naboomspruit), which coincided with Berzin and Rodzianko’s visit.
Also accompanying the group was Stretch Fowler, of Green Star Products, the US company contracted by De Beers to build 90 high-pressure biodiesel reactors, and Matthias Wackerbauer, of MWK Biogas, of Germany.
The experts expanded on the potential of algae technology to provide large volumes of algae feedstock for biofuels production in South Africa.
The fact that De Beers was the first company to receive a licence for commercial biofuels production from the South African Revenue Service was also mentioned frequently.
At the time of the visit, the media was told about De Beers Fuel’s ambitious plans to produce feedstock for between 16-billion litres and 24-billion litres of biofuels a year.
Moreover, by enabling the propagation of large volumes of relatively cheap renewable algae feedstock, De Beers would limit the use of food-crop feedstocks, such as sunflower and soy, in local biofuels production.
Besides giving South Africa biofuels, algae technology would consume carbon dioxide, as algae depended on large amounts of carbon dioxide for its rapid growth.
Plans were made known to deploy a fuel- assessment unit at the Kelvin power station, in Johannesburg.
The technology would also be tested in other locations in South Africa.
To prove De Beers’ abilities, visitors were shown a production plant that, according to De Beer, produced 144 000 /d of biodiesel and was being run 25 days a month, and had 50-million litres of diesel on its order book every month.
However, on April 1, popular investigative programme Carte Blanche ‘exposed’ the company when it aired a programme on De Beers Fuel.
When questioned by Carte Blanche, De Beer said that the company had only sold 41 000 of biodiesel and had 39 000 in its tanks, ready to be sold.
And, while investors in De Beers and Infiniti Biodiesel were given the impression that algae was an almost immediate solution to the antici- pated shortage of vegetable oil for biofuels production, in truth, the production of algae feedstock is viewed as a third-generation technology.
Rodzianko then said that, “on an accelerated schedule, the
earliest that a commercial-scale facility would be available
[would] probably be the end of
Even after being exposed, De Beers continued to publish on its website unrealistic claims about its abilities.
The company also continued to point out its relationship with GreenFuel Technology, which had received the prestigious Frost and Sullivan technology innovation award of the year.
GreenFuel has since terminated the licensing agreement with De
Beers Fuel owing to “nonperformance”.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other News This Week News
Updated 52 minutes ago The first of a total of 40 Cuban engineers have arrived in the Free State on Sunday, with the rest expected to arrive on Monday. They will mainly be involved in improving service delivery, the construction of government subsidised settlements, houses, the provision...
Updated 1 hour 15 minutes ago Toyota has lifted the veil on its new, eighth-generation Hilux bakkie, set to launch in South Africa in the first quarter next year. Sales have already started in Thailand.
Recent Research Reports
Steel 2015: A review of South Africa's steel sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Steel 2015 report provides an overview of the key developments in the global steel industry and particularly of South Africa’s steel sector over the past year, including details of production and consumption, as well as the country's primary carbon...
Projects in Progress 2015 - First Edition (PDF Report)
In fact, this edition of Creamer Media’s Projects in Progress 2015 supplement tracks developments taking place under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which has had four bidding rounds. It appears to remain a shining light on the...
Electricity 2015: A review of South Africa's electricity sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Electricity 2015 report provides an overview of State-owned power utility Eskom and independent power producers, as well as electricity planning, transmission, distribution and the theft thereof, besides other issues.
Construction 2015: A review of South Africa’s construction sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Construction 2015 Report examines South Africa’s construction industry over the past 12 months. The report provides insight into the business environment; the key participants in the sector; local construction demand; geographic diversification;...
Liquid Fuels 2014 - A review of South Africa's Liquid Fuels sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Liquid Fuels 2014 Report examines these issues, focusing on the business environment, oil and gas exploration, the country’s feedstock supplies, the development of South Africa’s biofuels industry, fuel pricing, competition in the sector, the...
Water 2014: A review of South Africa's water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2014 report considers the aforementioned issues, not only in the South African context, but also in the African and global context, and examines the issues of water and sanitation, water quality and the demand for water, among others.
This Week's Magazine
While economic forecasts for the African continent are most favourable, African airlines may not be able to benefit from the expected growth in the region’s gross domestic product (GDP), International Air Transport Association VP: Africa Raphael Kuuchi has warned....
The Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP) will need to change substantially post 2020, says Metair Investments South African operations COO Ken Lello. “We must not make tweaks. We have to change. What we are doing is not sustainable.”
Banking group Absa’s forecast is for the rand to end the year at around R13 against the dollar, weakening further to R13.50 by 2016, says Absa sectoral analyst Jacques du Toit. He warns that possible interest rate hikes in the US may see capital being pulled from...
The Dispute Resolution Centre at the Bargaining Council for the Civil Engineering Industry (BCCEI) is now open to handle party-to-party disputes. The BCCEI represents the interests of all level four to nine Construction Industry Development Board companies.
Communications technology firm Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa head Fredrik Jejdling says the company’s commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility has been integrated into all facets of its operations, which has provided it with sustainable revenue...