A study has found that the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using ethanol derived from sugarcane is a viable major business opportunity for the South African sugarcane sector. The study was jointly undertaken by the South African Canegrowers Association (SA Canegrowers) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).
The report was presented to the Value Chain Diversification Task Team, which includes representatives of the canegrowers as well as other stakeholders from industry and government, earlier this month. The Task Team was set up under the Sugar Industry Value Chain Masterplan, which in turn was created to draw up a medium- to long-term diversification strategy for the sugarcane value chain.
According to the study, if 50% of the country’s 19-million tons of annual production of sugarcane was diverted to the production of ethanol, the result could be the production of some 700-million litres of low-carbon ethanol, which could in turn be used to make 433-million litres of SAF, either locally or overseas, using ‘Alcohol-to-Jet’ fuel refineries.
However, a number of important steps would have to be taken to make this possible. An enabling regulatory framework would have to be created, small-scale growers would have to be assisted with essential structures and equipment to ensure occupational health and safety, and internal farm level administrative support would have to be provided. In addition, to promote the use of local labour, preferential labour laws and procurement processes would have to be implemented. Further, proper impact assessments would have to be carried out and the national greenhouse gas reporting requirement would have to be improved.
“SA Canegrowers is pleased that the presentation to the Value Chain Diversification Task Team was well received with members positive about the work done so far,” reported SA Canegrowers chairperson Rex Talmadge. “Aviation biofuels as a potential value stream for cane growers will now be unpacked further by the task team. We look forward to working together with government and our industry counterparts to come up with a diversification strategy that addresses these current blockages and ensures the long-term sustainability and profitability of the industry.”
The study calculated South Africa’s own annual demand for fuel ethanol could reach some 2.4-billion litres. Of this, 75%, or 1.8-billion litres, would be for SAF, while 25%, or 600-million litres, would be from the ‘national fuel blending mandate’. These figures highlighted the potential for further growth in the sector.