Monday, July 6, 2009

Tema Oil Refinery to go into biofuels production

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Ghana’s only oil refinery, the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) intends to go into the production of biofuels in the next 18 months, in anticipation of the phasing out of conventional oil, its acting Managing Director has said, according to a GNA report.

Dr Kwame Ampofo, then stressed on the importance for African refiners to shift their focus from conventional fuels to biofuels so that they will be in a better position to satisfy the international market.

He argued that other countries are gradually focusing on biofuel, making it important for African refiners to go into its production. “It is renewable and regenerates itself,” he said.

Dr. Ampofo said these Thursday July 2, 2009 when he addressed the opening of a two-day meeting of heads of laboratories of oil refineries in Africa in Accra.

The meeting was organized by the Africa Refiners Association (ARA) in collaboration with TOR for 45 participants in the refineries from 10 African countries including Ghana.

The meeting, which is a follow up to a previous one held in Dakar, is aimed at reviewing discussions and mapping up strategies for the way forward.

Dr Ampofo warned that should African refineries fail to go into the production of biofuels they would lose their relevance when the use of conventional fuel finally fades out.

He said plans were underway to integrate TOR into the production of biofuels and that even though TOR has the staff to go into the production it would be fully ready to do so within 18 months.

Dr Ampofo said most economies would be consuming up to 50 percent of energy generated from petroleum in the next decade and the proper management of the sector would determine the future of the economy and appealed to refineries to come out with quality products to meet modern standards.

The global food and economic crisis, coupled with the global energy crisis is pushing most countries into considering alternative energy sources as the way out. Biofuels have been identified as the most appropriate alternative energy sources, but not without the attendant challenges that these pose.

For instance, the Guardian newspaper in London in July 2008 published a leaked World Bank report which says biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated. Indeed, the report was a sharp contradiction of the US government’s claims that biofuel contributes less than 3% to the food crisis.

In May 2008, the UN’s top adviser on food security, Olivier de Schutter made a scathing criticism against the investments that are being made in biofuels by some countries. In an interview with the BBC, he described the investment in biofuels as “irresponsible”, but his predecessor in the job, Jean Ziegler, had condemned biofuels as a “crime against humanity” and called for an immediate ban on their use. He went ahead to call for an immediate freeze of the policy and asked for restraint on investors whose speculation he says is driving food prices higher.

The World Bank report, however, pointed out that biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had any dramatic impact on food prices.

The IMF Country Director in Ghana, Arnold McIntyre, had said at a World Bank Dialogue Series in Accra, Ghana, that countries are turning to biofuels in response to current global fuel crisis, adding that by 2005, the US overtook Brazil as the largest producer of ethanol. In the EU, he said, Germany is the largest producer of biofuel.

He added that, biofuel production in the US which is corn based, is less cost effective than the sugarcane based in Brazil. He therefore, called for policy change to address biofuels production and suggested that it is necessary to do more research in second generation biofuels production.

Currently, in Ghana over twenty companies say they are investing in biofuels, some are into the cultivation of Jatropha. But available evidence suggests that not much is known about the full potential of Jatropha as an alternative energy source. Indeed, the experience of India has shown that the crop does not yield as much as it has been said to.

The government of India announced a scheme to plant 13 million hectares, enough to generate nearly 500,000 barrels of Jatropha oil per day.

But as the country’s major investment in Jatropha neared its end, it was discovered that there was no yield. “While the literature said that with dry land, after four years’ growth, you can get a yield of 1kg per plant. For us, it is hardly 200g per plant,” said Professor R. R. Shah, Navsari Agricultural University’s dean of agribusiness, one of the 22 agribusiness colleges involved in the Indian project

D1 Oils, a London-listed biofuels company also planted about 257,000 hectares of Jatropha mainly in India, but it was unsuccessful.

The current global energy crisis makes the temptation to jump onto any bandwagon promoting any kind of alternative energy source stronger, but it is necessary to be careful.

Countries should invest in Research and Development until there is enough scientific evidence that would justify any appreciable investment in biofuels,because the evidence that biofuels both food crops and non-food crops are responsible for the current global food crisis is overwhelming.

The use of food crops like corn or soy for biofuels production impacts on the world, just as the cultivation of non-food crops like Jatropha which would be competing for arable land for food crops.

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