Articles Posted in the Renewable energy category

SA biofuels plan has high price tag

April 6, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Photograph © Logan Buell, Biofuels have been in the news again recently. The government has been looking at unused agricultural land in the former homelands, particularly in the east of the country, to grow crops for biofuels, but the plan could prove extremely expensive and risky, Business Day reports. Biofuels are seen as an opportunity to develop previously disadvantaged farmers and the economies of poor rural areas. It is estimated that one permanent job is created for every 100 hectares of land brought into production, and then another 50 jobs are created at the secondary production level.

Presumably using unutilised land in the former homelands is a way of getting round some of the problems of biofuels crops, such as displacing food crops from commercial farmlands, creating food shortages and driving up prices.

But because of the lack of infrastructure – such as roads, railway networks and storage facilities – in the former homelands, it’s seemingly going to be a costly undertaking. To develop them from scratch could cost R50-billion before biofuel production even starts, the report says. At van Coller of the agriculture department is quoted as saying that it would cost between R15,000 and R20,000 a hectare to develop the land in the former homelands. This is significantly more than the cost of developing existing commercial farmland that’s unused, estimated at about R5,000 to R6,000 a hectare. Another important challenge will be to achieve sustainable production levels and provide access to mechanisation without creating a dependency on grants, the report says.

Meanwhile, the new Coega soya bean processing facility in the Eastern Cape, which is still in the engineering design stage, is expected to consume 1-million tons of genetically modified soya beans a year, according to another Business Day report. The plant will produce 800,000 tons of soya bean meal and 250,000 tons of oil, some of which will be used for biodiesel for local consumption. South Africa reportedly imports 800,000 tons of soya bean meal at present, so growing soya beans locally could save the country R3-billion a year. The soya beans will be genetically modified, Geoff Mordt, the MD of Rainbow Nation Renewable Fuels, the company building to processing facility, told Business Day, because “this has been the norm for the past 30 years in the soya bean industry”.