Back to Blend

29 11 2011

The billboard advertising Zimbabwe’s Green Fuel has been around for some time now but I did not pay it much attention. Then yesterday there was one of their fliers lying by the side of the road where I picked up my weekly milk from Helen. It seems we are revisiting the days of blended petrol.

In the 1980s and early ’90s Zimbabwe was chronically short of fuel so sugar cane derived ethanol was blended into the petrol. There were problems. Stories of plastic fuel hoses not holding up and valves sticking due to the extra dry nature of the fuel abounded. We had to put “Upper Cylinder” lubricant into the tank with every filling. I don’t recall if this had any scientific basis or was a clever marketing tactic but we did it anyway. Then fuel supplies improved and the ethanol was no longer added. Earlier this week I was filling up a container for various power equipment at the nursery and commented to the fuel pump attendant on the “Blend” label still on the petrol pump years after it had stopped becoming available. Unlike South Africa we do not have grades of petrol available at the pumps; high-octane, low octane. It was just a one-size-fits-all scenario but that has now changed.

The person behind the Green Fuel setup is one Billy Rautenbach who, to put it mildly, is controversial. It seems he is not without money and some $600 million has been invested in the venture. Their website is certainly impressive and delves heavily into the soil science of the area with some impressive jargon (I cannot think why they did this) but is curiously short on the “Meet our team” page – it seems there are only 2 people in the team! Interestingly Green Fuel has teamed up with ARDA (Agricultural Rural Development Authority) in the Middle Sabi and Chisambanje lowveld to provide the sugar cane for ethanol conversion. Years ago I had dealings with ARDA at Middle Sabi and was left more than unimpressed. A parastatal company, they were incredibly inefficient and uninterested in the project I was promoting at the time. Mr Rautenbach does not tolerate this sort of inefficiency and is famously difficult to work for at all so I would be interested in how this will turn out.

The blended petrol, containing 10% anhydrous ethanol, is now available at most filling stations and true to the website promise is about 6c cheaper than the non-blended fuel. I don’t have a petrol powered vehicle to test it out and I don’t know anyone who has tested it. Maybe it will live up to the hype. They certainly like to trumpet how much employment it has created which of course is a good thing. I do wonder how much water it will use as sugar cane is a “thirsty” crop. The upstream reservoirs of Lake Mutirikwi (Kyle) and Osborne have been underutilized for some years now but I think this will change that.



2 responses

12 06 2012

ladies and gentlemen, i personally feel there is more to the Green Fuel issue than the mandatory blending and illegality of its existance. just to get clarity—how can a $600m project be born, operate for a yr+ and then close and open shop like a murambatsvina kiosk—how can it then be declared illegal at such a stage—–how can it produce so much ethanol without a market above all— how can it–with its international scale be declared to be unknown—with all these big people flying in and out to see the project?????????LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AS A ZIMBABWEAN, I FEEL THERE IS SOMETHING VERY BIG HIDDEN IN THIS OR TO DO WITH THIS PROJECT.

its said that the project stands to provide the nation with enough fuel and a significant quantity of electric power—so who is in the way to stop such benefits and why? if this is true, why cant the powers that be clear this issue?

my views and thoughts after all this:

1. maybe its benefiting a few individuals in the name of being a national project. the marange diamonds which led to the displacement of the locals with a few or no benefits—some powers have seen it not worthwhile.
3.maybe some authorities also want a share.
4. finally if its totally zimbabwean, why is the government said to be coming in—when its fully indeginised—-is it because its too big for the zimbabwean owners when they actually managed to set it up
5. or was the money used to set it up dirty or clean

this is but just but a few of the questions which come up whenever Green Fuel is mentioned.


22 06 2012

As with all things that Billy Reutenbach gets involved in it’s not what it seems. I vote for point 5. Rest assured that Mr Reutenbach probably didn’t get his fingers burnt as much as he should have.

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