Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ethanol Fuel in South Africa

photo (c) 2005 Julia Freeman

Tumi Makgetla reports in South Africa's Mail & Guardian that while an interest in alternative energy and green politics is often seen as the preserve of the chattering classes, working-class people in Johannesburg's inner city are already using renewable energy in their homes.

On a pavement in Joubert Park in Joburg (how Johannesburg is commonly called), shoppers cluster around Tumelo Ramolefi’s stall exclaiming and asking questions about his products. Ramolefi is not selling the usual inner-city hawker stock of facecloths and socks, or "smileys" (boiled sheep heads) and "runaways" (pigs’ trotters). Instead, it is his display of innovative renewable-energy gadgets that attracts the attention of passers-by, and often turns them into converts to the green-energy cause.

His bestselling items are ethanol gel stoves and lamps, which offer a healthier, safer and more efficient fuel alternative to paraffin or coal fires.

Ethanol gel is a renewable form of energy made by mixing ethanol with a thickening agent and water. The ethanol is extracted through the fermentation and distillation of sugars from sources such as molasses, sugar cane and sweet sorghum or starch crops, like cassava or maize.

Ramolefi sells ethanol gel products and appliances for GreenHeat South Africa, which has branches in Durban, Jo’burg and Cape Town. The stoves and ethanol gel -- produced from sugar cane -- are manufactured in Durban. A two-plate stove sells for R160 (approx. $25 USD) and a lamp for R50 (around $8).

"This stove is number one," said Maria Ndlela, who works in a recycling centre in Joubert Park and has owned her stove for two months. She says it is easy to use and, while paraffin is cheaper than the gel, the gel is more cost-efficient in the long run. Five litres of gel costs about $9.70 and paraffin costs approximately $3.55 for the same amount. "Gel lasts. If you don’t use it too much, five litres of gel takes you a month to use, but five litres of paraffin lasts only three days."

Ndlela says an added attraction of ethanol is that the paraffin price fluctuates. “The price of paraffin is going up and down, up and down with the petrol price,” she said, “So now I’m forgetting about paraffin.”

“What I like about the stove is that it will conquer our unreliable electricity,” said Florah Thulare.

Safety is also a big selling point in favour of ethanol products, particularly for those who use coal or paraffin for heat and cooking. Paraffin stoves, which explode or are easily knocked over, cause fires, and poor ventilation can lead to asphyxiation.

"Coal can actually kill you during the night," says Ramolefi. "In this coming month, we know people are going to die, but there’s no campaign."

Gel fuel burns with a carbon-free flame, so it does not cause respiratory problems such as asthma, which can be caused by emissions from paraffin, coal and wood fuel. The gel also does not produce any smoke or smell.

Gel fuel will not ignite if spilt like gas or paraffin. The gel is non-toxic and thus is not poisonous if swallowed by children. The stoves are designed so they will not fall over if bumped and the stove’s legs allow it to slide when pushed instead of toppling over. Even if an ethanol lamp is overturned, the gel will extinguish the wick.

The stoves are designed for cooking, but about half of his customers buy them as heaters, said Ramolefi.

Ramolefi has sold about 70 stoves in the past eight months and hopes the market will grow and prices will consequently drop, making the stoves more affordable for the poor.

My latest post (July 2006) on Ethanol E85 Fuel

Full article on how ethanol gel is replacing paraffin in South Africa


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article. I'm not sure that we're ready for large scale ethanol production the U.S.

4:53 pm, May 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi There

Ethanol gel is the solution to paraffin and its bad causes. But in South Africa electrical power is in short demand and ESKOM is interested in ethanol gel as a way to reduce power consumption.

In Mozambique the locals use 1 million cubic meters of wood for charcoal every year. Ethanol gel can replace deforestation if you use a renewable source.

The Mozambican Government has allocated 3.5 million hectares of land to Mozambique Bio-Fuels Industries (MBFI) to produce feedstock’s for bio fuels.

They will grow cassava for bio-ethanol and Jatropha curcas for bio-diesel.

But the real solution is to get the local farmers involved. They grow 5.6 million tons of cassava a year as food. And they can easily double their out put.

If MBFI can purchase cassava form locals they can with one modular plant in a community add $100 000 to the community. Money they don't have as 37% of them earn less than a $1 a day (if you calculate the value of a water they drink and food they eat).

Getting back to ethanol gel. MBFI plans to erect the first plant (of 300 such plants) producing 1.2 million litres of ethanol per year in the Nampula province in Mozambique.

But they need a company to purchase their ethanol gel.


Johan Horak

11:30 am, June 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is dangerously wrong in places.
1. Ethanol is lower in energy density than paraffin - the claim that you can use 5 Litres of paraffin in three days but the same amount of enthanol will last for weeeks is laughable.

2. Ethanol is NOT carbon free - and burning it can produce Carbon Monoxide - get this wrong and it can kill you.

11:38 am, June 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I would like to comment on the previous statements. Ethanol base product is in Gel form and not in a liquid form. Burning time estimated for 1 Lt of ethanol base gel is +/- 4 Hrs. A liter of water boil within 8 min. For more info contact me at 0827715532. Floris Nel.

12:06 pm, July 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought some green gel as lighter fluid once that was on clearance. It was called Eco-Gel or something. It worked great just a few drops burned for minutes and we talked about using it to cook. I think it must have been ethinol gel. I have not been able to find it since.

9:27 am, August 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This project was part of the “Millennium Gelfuel Initiative (MGI).” Greenheat South Africa (at the time a Zimbabwean company called MGC) got a lot of funding to kick things off from the World Bank's Development Marketplace ($130,000) and the World Bank’s Regional Program for the Traditional Energy Sector ($50,000). MGC also contributed $100,000.

You hear so many bad things about the World Bank, it's nice to have an example of how they can make the world a better place.

Link to Greenheat South Africa

7:12 am, October 03, 2006  
Blogger Woodzy said...

A small suburb just north of Houston has recently added a biodiesel fuel generator to act as a backup power source for the city offices and at least part of the community. The biofuel generator runs on fuel made from chicken fat.

4:01 pm, November 09, 2007  
Blogger James Reed said...

I agree with Wes, E-85 is a brilliant model for an alternative to fossil fuels in South Africa. Does South Africa have an industry in the making of E-85 from sugar cane?

11:32 am, June 25, 2008  
Blogger James said...

Actually I think Wes was suggesting ethnanol in Brazil is a good model for the United States to follow, something I strongly disagree with.

Firstly Brazil uses about a tenth of the liquid fuels per capita that the United States uses. Next the United States produces much more (heavily subsidised) ethanol than Brazil. Lastly it's a myth that Brazil only uses ethanol to power their vehicle fleet, they uses lots of conventional gasoline as well.

Alternative Energy Blog

1:46 pm, June 25, 2008  

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