Towards the end of last month, I read an interesting press release by the Government of Malawi’s Department of Science and Technology. This Department is conducting research on the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel for petrol driven motor vehicles. This project is being done in collaboration with Lilongwe Technical College and Ethanol Company of Malawi.

The Ethanol Company is providing all the ethanol that is being used for the experiments free of charge and has imported a flex vehicle from Brazil for further experiments. A flex vehicle uses petrol an ethanol in any mixture in a single tank.

The Malawi Government raises a number of exciting facts to justify this project. I have paraphrased these facts here and there for my online community. These facts are as follows:

  1. The availability of excess ethanol: The current use of ethanol in Malawi is about 50% for blending with petrol, the rest is used for industrial purposes and export. Therefore it would not be a mistake to use some of the excess ethanol as fuel in motor vehicles more especially because the export price is lower than the local price. It has also been pointed out that the sugarcane fields at Dwangwa, Nchalo and Kasinthula can be expanded to produce more sugar that will result in more molasses for more ethanol. More sugarcane fields can be openned quite easily in other places. As you can see from the map above, Malawi has plenty of water which can be used for irrigation throughout the year!
  2. Implication on fuel imports: Volumes of fuel imports into Malawi show that the government bill on fuel import is increasing every year. Records show that the price of petrol has been increasing yearly from MK1.8 billion (about US$12.86Million) in the year 2000 to around MK5 billion (about US$35.7 Million) in 2005. A combined import bill with diesel is around MK15 billion (about US$107 Million) per year. With these statistics, it is easy to see that continued escalation of fuel prices is a major cause of the cost-push inflation in Malawi. This is not sustainable for the economy of the country. Therefore the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel will help the country to save the much-needed forex for other vital activities in the country.
  3. Conservation of the environment: It is a well known fact that the burning of fossil fuels such petrol, diesel and coal releases carbon dioxide, which is contributing to global warming. Fossil fuels also release oxides of sulphur and nitrogen which contribute to the formation of acid rain. The burning of ethanol does not release extra oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, thus its use is environmentally friendly.
  4. Depletion of fossil petroleum reserves: It is a well known fact that the world reserves of fossil fuels are being depleted at a fast rate due to increased consumption of fuels as a result of national economies globally. Therefore, Malawi finds it safe to start using alternative sources of energy before the global reserves are depleted. Furthermore, ethanol is a renewable energy source because sugarcanes are replanted after the area is harvested.
  5. Poverty alleviation:As expected, the use of ethanol for fuel will increase demand for sugarcane. Expanded sugarcane farming will offer employment opportunities to Malawians. Other Malawians will get additional employment in the sugar as well as the ethanol processing and marketing chain. This fact coupled with fact # 2 will make a huge positive impact on Malawi’s economy. Malawi may finally find her way out of poverty!

In the next posting, I will explain the current state of the project and the way forward.