Red Orbit reports that Malawi has taken up Brazil’s lead and is now planning to switch from petrol to ethanol as the main vehicle fuel. Experiments on converting cars to run on this ethanol have gone well.

Last year, I asked the Malawi government to take the issue of ethanol driven vehicles as a matter of urgency.We must adopt these vehicles as fast as we can. If we had Parliament in Malawi, this is one of the most important issues that they should have been discussing and making sure that we were making progress. Unfortunately, those guys whom we call our MPs are busy fighting the political battles of their party masters forgetting the interests of masses that gave them the mandate to be in the August House. Amangwetu nanga munthu amadya Section 65 (Does a person eat Section 65)? I do not have any political ambitions but sometimes those noisy and childish honourables give me the impetus (amandipatsa mangolomera) to start thinking of representing Rumphi Central constituents in the August House after I finish my mission at Tokyo Tech. Ooh!!!My apologies, I am deviating from the aim of the post!!!

Back to Ethanol propelled vehicles!Last year, I asked the Office of the Director of Science and Technology if, by carrying out the Ethanol propelled vehicle project, Malawi was not re-inventing the wheel in light of Brazil’s progress in this area. I also asked this office if it was possible for Malawi just to send some people to Brazil for training on Ethanol propelled vehicles and see how we can implement the same in Malawi. The response was as follows:

It is not easy to send people to Brazil for training. We allocated some funds during the last financial year (2006/07) for an officer from Lilongwe Technical College to go to Brazil, but it did not materialize, because he could not get the invitation letter for him to process the Visa. CFAO as our partner assisted a lot to get the invitations, they even send e-mail messages in Portuguese, the official language in Brazil, but it did not work! We are still exploring ways of getting around this problem.Secondly, in Brazil, they are manufacturing Flex vehicles which can use pure ethanol, pure petrol or any combination of the two fuels in a single tank. A Flex has been imported by Ethco for further experiments in Malawi. However,you can agree with me that this technology will be far above the reach of most middle Malawians. The experiments we are conducting now are targeting the Biwi-Biwi, or Ndirande-Mlanga road -Red cross type of people. We believe that this group consumes a lot of fuel and could help to reduce the petrol demand hence imports if they turned ethanol. Thank you for your enquiry and interest in the Ethanol driven vehicle project, we hope that every Malawian stand to benefit if the results are commercialized in the future.

This detailed response enabled me to understand the main objective of this project i.e. targeting the Biwi-Biwi, or Ndirande-Mlanga road -Red cross type of people because these are the people that consume a lot of fuel. It is reported that Mr Freeman Kalirani and his team at Lilongwe Technical College have converted four vehicles. Two vehicles, a Nissan and a Mitsubishi, are running 100% on ethanol and the other two vehicles that are flexi-type are running on either petrol or ethanol or any mixtures of the two.This is a good development. As I applaud the efforts of Mr Kalirani and his team, I still have a few questions. Are we sure we are the first country in the world to convert old petrol driven cars to flexi-type (ethanol+petrol driven)? I somehow think that it could be possible that some folks elsewhere have already done what we are doing in Malawi. It is important that we do a some research on this issue. Get me right on this one.I am not demeaning the work done by colleagues at Lilongwe Technical College(LTC). I am just expressing my thoughts both as a partner in development and as a scientist who is driven by the urgency of now. Although I am of the view that the cars converted by the LTC team are in perfect condition, I would like to suggest that they should tested by some independent experts i.e. the Brazilians. If these cars can get endorsed by Mitsubishi and Nissan, it will be great.

The Office of the Director of Science and Technology also said that it was not easy to send people to Brazil for training. But now the situation has changed. From one of my posts, you will notice that the Brazilian ambassador to Malawi, Mr Raul Taunay, was present at the launch of the launch of the flex-vehicle which Malawi bought from Brazil last year. This vehicle is being used in the experiments by the LTC team. I would like to advise the Malawi government to sign an agreement with Brazil focusing on ethanol driven cars.Countries such as Ecuador and India have already signed such agreements with Brazil. Why are we delaying? Malawi can easily initiate this through Mr Raul Taunay’s office. With such a high profile agreement in place, it will be easy for Malawian experts to vist Brazil and learn how our colleagues are implementing this technology. After that, it will be easy for us to implement the same back home.

Other things that the Malawi government must do include:

  1. Coming up with some regulations for the car conversion industry. One of the things that must be done in this area is to issue special licenses to capable service centres which will be converting old petrol driven cars to flexi-type. Many people will want their cars to be converted to flexi-type.As a result, there is a huge potential that numerous unscrupulous service centres will spring up. Special licenses will help to ensure that only capable service men are in this industry.By the way, do those guys who set up garages say in Ndirande follow any regulations? Do they have any documents?
  2. Reducing duty and tax on auto parts that will be used in conversion industry. This will help to ensure that the number of flexi-type vehicles in the country increases thereby cutting on the overall consumption of petrol and saving our FOREX.
  3. Reducing duty and tax on flexi-cars imported from Brazil. The reasons are the same as in #2.
  4. Finding out if we have to extend our sugar plantations in order to meet our domestic demand for Ethanol.The pros and the cons of extending our sugar plantations must be carefully evaluated.There is a need to find out the economic benefits of exporting excess Ethanol now that other countries will be shifting to flexi-type vehicles. This will help us determine the extent to which our sugar plantations can be extended.

What do you think?

I have aired out my views on the introduction of flexi-type vehicles in Malawi. Now, I open the floor for discussion. Feel free to share your views with me through the comment section. Spammy and off-topic comments will be deleted without notice. If I get some quality feedback, I will write another post on this issue.

Update (6 March 2009):

You can take a look at a follow up article in which I ask if there is any difference between the ethanol conversion kit in Malawi and the ones that are available on the market.