GOVERNMENT plans to produce a bio-fuel policy this year, which has been in the offing for some time, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Partson Mbiriri, has disclosed.
The draft would be ready before by mid-year.
“We are in the process of preparing a bio-fuel policy. We have a draft; we hope to have it approved in the second quarter.”
Initially, government wanted to launch the policy before the end of 2015 but failed to do so.
Attempts were made in the past to start production of biodiesel but this also failed.
Mbiriri said the failure was due to political reasons.
“Unfortunately, the inclusive government politicised biodiesel. Some saw biodiesel as a rural programme that would benefit a certain political dispensation. People were told that if you pay for jatropha, the money will come from your pocket. There was skepticism, fears that you won’t be paid in time,” he said.
The then minister of science and technology development in the inclusive government, Heneri Dzinotyiwei, argued at the time that jatropha plants could not be grown commercially in the country.
Government had started championing jatropha production in 2005, four years before the government of national unity was formed.
One of Dzinotyiwei’s arguments was that to achieve optimal yields, jatropha plants needed to be at least three metres apart, and he said commercial production of the plant would compromise farm land for food crops.
A bio-diesel plant was set up in Mt Hampden, about 15 kilometres northwest of Harare.
The ZANU-PF government formed after the disputed 2013 poll has since sought to resuscitate the policy but up to now has not been able to do so.
The mooted policy is expected to demand the blending of diesel with biodiesel. This is notwithstanding the problems government is experiencing with ethanol blending of petrol, which has had to be revised downwards and has seen targets being missed.
For instance, the multi-million dollar Chisumbanje ethanol project, Green Fuel, has missed its investment targets, which projected an injection of approximately US$2,2 billion by 2017.
The success of Zimbabwe’s biodiesel programme hinges on the production of adequate jatropha feedstock. For example, it was estimated that in order to meet the 10 percent bio-diesel production target set before, 120 000 hectares of jatropha must be planted.
The national bio-diesel feedstock production programme was run by the then National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM) and the Forestry Commission. NOCZIM has since been restructured to form two companies, PetrolTrade and the National Oil Infrastructure Company.
According to bio-energy experts, at least one tonne of seed oil is required to produce up to 300 litres of bio-diesel.
Zimbabwean farmers currently face huge financial challenges and the policy would need comprehensive financing plan.
Bio-diesel was touted as holding great promise for a country such as Zimbabwe whose reliance on fossil fuels, which are imported, is a strain on scarce foreign currency. Neighbouring countries such as Mozambique were also on the jatropha bandwagon and just like in Zimbabwe the programme did not go far.
Mbiriri believes the programme can work this time.
“The programme is being resuscitated and we hope you shall hear more about it,” he said.
Biofuels are sourced from plant based oils and sugars, animal fats and other naturally occurring sources.
Zimbabwe already has a natural energy policy, which briefly touches on renewable energy and biofuels.
Jatropha is a big bush that can grow into a small tree which produces black seeds that produce oil which can be used for making soap, burning in lamps or converted into diesel fuel.