Small-scale biodiesel production more cost effective

20th September 2013 By: Zandile Mavuso - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Features

Self-sustainable, small-scale biodiesel production is the most cost-effective way to get into the market, following confirmation by government that its 2013 target of 2% biofuels penetration into the current fuel pool will not be met, says Biodiesel processing and equipment company Bioman Energy.

During a presentation that conveyed an updated biofuels industrial strategy by the Department of Energy (DoE), in January, DoE clean energy chief director Mokgadi Modise announced that, even though the 2013 target would be missed, the country was set to produce biofuels in excess of the original yearly target once the overall enabling and supporting framework came into effect.

The DoE notes that the 2% biofuels pene-tration is equivalent to about 400-million litres being directed into the national liquid fuels pool each year. However, Bioman Energy owner Janice Whitehead proposes that, to reach the market faster, self-sustainable and decentralised production of biodiesel is a more viable option.

“While government may be trying to facilit-ate biofuels distribution at petrol stations in South Africa, as it regards alternative fuel as a capital investment that will provide a good market turnaround for large corporations, right now, affordable biodiesel units that will benefit small-scale producers daily are a more sustainable plan for the market,” she adds.

Modise pointed out in her presentation that the South African biofuels objectives included facilitating economic development through job creation and small, medium-sized and microenterprise development; stimulating agricultural production in the underused agricultural areas of the country; and integrating historically disadvantaged farmers, especially in the former homelands, into the mainstream agricultural and energy economies.

However, Whitehead believes that govern-ment places too much emphasis on job creation, which diverts attention from the production of economically sustainable and profitable biodiesel. “If the focus is on creating sustainable fuel security, job creation will automatically follow,” she adds.

Bioman Energy designs and constructs equipment and production plants for small-scale biodiesel entrepreneurs. The company is specifically promoting its modular 150 ℓ batch processor – with both Dry Wash and Water Wash options – as expandable start-up systems.

The Dry Wash process is a simple and cost-effective method to remove impurities from biodiesel, while the traditional Water Wash is still a good option in some instances. The company supplies Dry Wash columns with a flow rate of between 35 /h and 100 ℓ/h with the 150 /d processor, it states.

The Dry Wash resins are specially formu-lated ion exchange resins engineered to increase the removal of soap, glycerin, trace metals and monoglycerides from raw bio-diesel fuel. The quality of feedstock will impact on the life of the resin, but if properly used, the final biodiesel quality will remain within specification.

“The biodiesel is run at about 3 ℓ/h for each kilogram of resin. For a column containing 120 kg of resin, the biodiesel flow rate should be 360 ℓ/h, and because the Bioman Dry Wash system operates with a separate pump (on the larger units), this process can be run independently of the reaction process. This results in a less ‘hands-on operation’ and is much less time consuming than a Water Wash process,” Whitehead explains.

The modular equipment offers the operator the flexibility of increased production as the business grows.

Being a supplier for small-scale producers, she notes that, it would be beneficial for the industry if cooperative opportunities could be formed in the market.

“In a cooperative scenario, a group of indivi- duals save up money. It works like a stokvel where, after a few months, money can be used by an individual or the group to buy equipment to start or expand their businesses and provide capital for their operations,” she points out, adding that the co-op will also offer a valuable support system for small operators.

The cost of setting up and commissioning a 150 operation with Dry Wash is about R50 000. A cooperative scenario will enable people to get production running faster, as it would be less encumbered by financial constraints, says Whitehead.

Bioman Energy believes that the co-op will work well in rural areas, where a hub for sustainable collaboration can be formed through the networks introduced by the concerned individuals.