Biofuels Update – Feb 2011

2011-02-24 18:04
Dis mos... Mielies

The long awaited biofuels strategy for South Africa is still simmering away on the DOE’s backburner. There is talk of a major ethanol project to be launched in the Eastern Cape to produce 300-million tons of the biofuel to be sold to the oil majors by 2016. The cost of this ambitious project is pitched at over R5-billion at today’s cost.

The maize lobby is still pressing government to change its mind and allow excess tonnage to be used in the production of bio diesel. Presently maize farmers are sitting with an excess of three million tons and little interest from traditional export destinations. Once again the DOE is agonising about the possibility of job creation in rural areas and the need to transform rural agriculture without compromising food security or undermining future staple food prices. Recent developments in Europe could provide a few useful indicators around current thinking and ongoing biofuels policies.

Various environmental groups conclude that if pursuance of the EU objective to achieve a market share of 10% of all transport fuel consumption from renewable feedstocks is to be sustainable, EU farmers will need to find and commit approximately 70 000 km2 of land to achieve the target. Apart from serious concerns that poor people, in particular, will be deprived of basic food, there is also concern that depending on how land is cleared and prepared for biofuels farming, this could compromise the environment. Predictions suggest that on this scale, as much as 56 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be added to the atmosphere. This is said to be equal to 26 million additional cars on Europe’s roads. Interestingly, biofuels producers say the EU Commission’s energy team should not take new science into account until the results are certain.

In anticipation of the biofuels strategy for South Africa, the Departments of Science and Technology and of Minerals and Energy co-chaired the Biodiesel Joint Implementation Committee, which among other things, led to the development of a distinct South African bio-diesel standard , SANS 1935:2004.

During the development of this standard, it became apparent that South Africa did not have the technical and analytical capability to test biofuels. In this regard, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) gave a grant of R2.936-million to the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to develop the required analytical and technical capability to support the biofuels industry. Through this support, SABS has acquired the skills and capability and the necessary technical equipment to test bio-diesel. SABS is now in an advantageous position to develop further these capabilities to serve Sub-Saharan Africa.

SABS current capability to test Bio-dieselfw-3-lrg

Bio-diesel quality is assessed against a SANS 1935:2004 (which entails the use of European Standard Methods and methods from the International Standard Organization ISO) specification consisting of 26 tests. The 26 tests are designed to control the chemical and physical properties of bio-diesel and to ensure that it is produced to a uniform standard, performs well in an engine, does not damage it and does not produce harmful emissions.

The key tests involved in bio-diesel analysis include the following and the SABS Petroleum laboratory has been equipped to perform the following tests: (The list is abbreviated and excludes technical descriptions of each test. For those interested in the detail see the SABS website).
1. Ester content;
2. Density;
3. Kinematic viscosity;
4. Flash Point;
5. Sulphur content;
6. Carbon residue;
7. Cetane number, min 51,0;
8. Sulphated ash content;
9. Water content;
10. Total contamination;
11. Copper strip corrosion;
12. Oxidation stability;
13. Acid Value;
14. Iodine value;
15. Linolenic acid methyl ester;
16. Polyunsaturated methyl esters;
17. Methanol content;
18. Mono-glyceride content;
19. Di-glyceride content;
20. Tri-glyceride content;
21. Free glycerol;
22. Total glycerol;
23. Group I Metals, mg/kg;
24. Group II Metals (total of Ca and Mg), mg/kg;
25. Phosphorous content, mg/kg;
26. Cold Filter Plugging Point.

SABS says there is a compelling need for South Africa to have an effective test laboratory to ensure the seamless integration of bio-fuels blending into fossil fuel petrol and diesel stocks. Compliance testing of the bio-fuels will essentially be for quality control during manufacturing. Therefore the manufacturer of bio-fuels should demonstrate compliance with the relevant standard. It is essential to prove that the product is fit for common purposes and that the biofuel has properties that conform to the limits as set out in SANS 1935:2004/SANS 465:2005 when tested by the methods specified. The SABS is in a position to assure that bio-diesel conforms to the necessary specifications.

Here is an abridged version of SAPIA’s recommendations of the prerequisites for the uptake of biofuels by the oil industry if it is to be successful. (See the SAPIA website for the more detail on this important aspect).

  • The use of ethanol and FAME (fatty acid methyl esters) components in the production of petrol and diesel present
    challenges in blending, storage, distribution and usage. Although potentially problematic, these challenges can be overcome if adequately and properly addressed. Failure could lead to serious consequences in the market and for vehicle emissions. The use of FAME is much less complicated than that of ethanol. Absorbing ethanol into a petrol pool requires the technical challenges and reliance on common infrastructure need to be taken into account.
  • Care must be taken to ensure quality of both FAME and bioethanol supplied for blending. SAPIA members will require each and every batch of biofuels supplied to have been properly certified for quality according to SABS specifications (at the point of blending). When the biofuels meet the SABS specifications in full, they should be mixable (fungible) throughout the supply chain.

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