The blending of unleaded petrol has been increased from 10% to 20% ethanol. For those who recall not too long ago an increase from 5% to 10% ethanol was put into effect. Prior to that the blending ratio had been 15% ethanol and was later on reduced to 5%. The reduction to 5% which was in effect from February to March had been necessitated by the shortage of ethanol. One of the challenges that lead to ethanol shortages is that from December to May sugar cane production tends to be quite low. Once the ethanol supply improved the mandatory ethanol blending ratio was increased to 10%. That’s just an overview of the blending ratio changes that have occurred in the past few months.

Local Fuel Blending

Fuel blending came onto the scene in 2008 when the ethanol plant at Green Fuel in Chisumbanje had been licensed. The blending initiative was introduced to address two issues namely erratic fuel supply and high fuel import bills. Locally there are only 11 blenders licensed by ZERA, 5 of which have plants in Harare and Bulawayo. Basically, fuel stations can source fuel as blended or not blended; it’s up to their discretion.

Green Fuel To Increase Its Capacity

Last year they increased their ethanol production to 75 million litres. They are working on increasing their sugar cane growing by a further 1500 hectares this year. This will translate into a 20% increase from last year to 90 million litres this year.

How Fuel Blending Cuts Back On Import Bills

Suppose we use a fuel consumption of 50 million litres as an example. If we are to consider the recently gazetted blend ratio of 20% ethanol, approximately USD10 million can be saved.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Ethanol Blends

Ethanol wields approximately 90% as much energy as petrol. So essentially what this means is that your normal fuel consumption will more or less remain the same – this is debatable though. I say so because some argue that ethanol blends can account for 25% to 30% reduction in the mileage covered.  Ethanol blends play a major role in the reduction of harmful fuel emissions. The results are good air quality and less likelihood for people’s health to be affected. The ethanol blends tend to go through a much cleaner process of combustion. Ethanol blends can lead to the reduction in emission of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide by as much as 30%. The likelihood of engine knocking is significantly reduced also.

Ethanol can be classified as a renewable source of energy owing to the fact that it all starts with the sun’s energy. One of the advantages is that ethanol blends are less problematic in the event of spills. This is because ethanol easily degrades quickly – something that can happen in less than a week.

One of the main disadvantages lies in ethanol’s ability to easily absorb water. Ethanol is highly reactive to water and this creates problems for its effective transportation. This also means that if an ethanol blend isn’t properly handled it can react with water and become harmful for your car engine. The other indirect disadvantage is that ethanol production is largely dependent on how much sugar cane is being grown. The pursuance of increasing sugar cane production for ethanol ends up depriving farming space for food-related farming. This can end up leading to pricing volatilities, especially for sugar. I already highlighted one other disadvantage in my opening remarks by growing seasons. December to May isn’t quite favourable for sugar cane production; meaning ethanol production is affected during those months.

So in a nutshell, increasing the ethanol blending ratio is meant to reduce the amount of money needed for fuel imports. The other thrust is to endeavour to make fuel more readily available locally. There seems to be a more concerted focus on only Green Fuel yet there are other ethanol producers in Triangle. There’s a need for all local ethanol producers to receive the necessary support to cause the ethanol blending strategy to bear lasting fruits.