Food, energy concerns, government procrastination all obstacles to development of South Africa's biofuels industry

LOS ANGELES , December 2, 2011 () – Global warming's impact on energy needs and food supply, and slow government action are continued barriers to South Africa’s potential growth as a biofuels haven, in spite of the country’s plentiful land and established agriculture, the Financial Times reported Dec. 1.

A government-mandated 2007 goal aims for 2% biofuels growth in liquid fuels by 2013, but with synthetic fuels currently comprising 38% of demand for liquid fuel and imported crude oil making up the rest, the country is at the mercy of the oil market’s volatility.

As the biggest greenhouse gas producer on the continent, South Africa agreed to a 34% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, with biofuels viewed as away to help reduce the road transport-driven emissions, which represent 22%. At issue is the four years the government has taken to stipulate the percentages required for blending bioethanol or biodiesel with liquid fuel, and no final deadline exists for advancing a stated required blending percentage.

Additionally, South Africa’s extremely dry climate leaves the government at odds over cultivating crops for energy, such as sugarcane, sugar beet and oils from sunflower seeds, canola and soya bean, rather than food. Concern over food shortages has prevented farmers from using even surplus crops such as maize for biofuels.

South African Bioenergy Association President Andrew Makenete, chalks up such tactics as “irrational,” saying there’s no evidence to support the fear that using land for energy crops will cause a food shortage. He pointed to Brazil’s flourishing biofuels industry and food security. Brazil uses technology developed in South Africa in the 1960s, but South Africa has since focused on the more affordable coal as an energy source.

The South African government must develop and promote a strategy for renewable energy in the face of more established interests in coal and nuclear energy, said
Professor Emile van Zyl at the University of Stellenbosch, senior energy research chair in biofuels. He said “procrastination” was causing South Africa to lose out on the wave.

The primary source of this article is the Financial Times, London, England, Dec.1, 2011.

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