Namibia to Make Bio-Diesel?

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Namibia is looking into the possibility of manufacturing bio-diesel, which has the potential to create jobs through income-generating pro-jects. The initiative will also contribute to the introduction of cleaner and environmentally friendly fuels in the country. Bio-diesel can be made from recycled cooking oil, and the likelihood of this initiative getting off the ground could prove viable in view of the large amounts of excess cooking oil being generated by local hotels and restaurants. Spearheading the venture together with experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and the Polytechnic of Namibia, is the Managing Director of the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) Namibia Michael Linke, who is optimistic about the project’s potential. “It’s potentially a good income-generating project, where people can even look into making bio-diesel themselves with simple equipment,” said Linke. BEN Namibia has been exploring a sustainable transport system in the country. Subsequently, Linke has tested the possibility of manufacturing bio-diesel and is pleased with the results thus far. He found that a mere dollar’s worth of “new” fuel could be equated to an amount of N$5,25 spent on conventional fuel. The environmentally friendly fuel is biodegradable, non-toxic and produces substantially fewer emissions compared to petroleum-based diesel. The waste vegetable oil or glycerine derived from the manufacturing of bio-diesel can then be used as raw material to make soap and lotions. Linke noted that the product can be used in any diesel engine with no need for modifications and is made from a common waste product – used cooking oil. The benefits are that the oil used to make bio-diesel could be used for cooking, lighting lanterns and could be utilised as fertiliser for crop production. However, speaking from a rural community empowerment perspective, Forester Simeon Hengari, of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in Rundu said although there is potential for villagers to reap substantial benefits from this venture, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in order to determine its viability. “How cost-effective is it to manufacture this product on a large scale? But it is an alternative fuel that can be tapped where people can make their own energy,” explained Hengari. The drive for safer fuels is a global concern worldwide. African countries such as Zambia and South Africa are drafting laws that will ensure that between five and 10 percent of all fuels should contain bio-diesel for cleaner fuel emissions. However, Hengari says for this venture to work, one needs bigger areas for planting trees that would produce the seeds for making bio-diesel. Yet this is being done on a much smaller scale in the north, close to a village called “Mile 20” situated some 25 km from Rundu. “We link bio-diesel to planting trees of merely a shrub called jatropha.” Although still in its initial stages, Hengari states that most of the seeds are derived from 20 to 30 shrubs. These shrubs then produce an oil nut, which should be pressed for oil that is used to make bio-diesel. “You take the raw cooking oil and add several chemicals,” said Hengari, explaining the simple process of making bio-diesel. More specifically, the product is made through a chemical process called transesterification, whereby the glycerine is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. “The process leaves behind two products – methyl esters (the chemical name for bio-diesel) and glycerine (a valuable by-product usually sold to be used in soaps and other products). In addition, it can also be made from renewable resources such as vegetable oil or animal fat and even from used cooking oil, an abundant waste product. Yet, at the end of the day, more logistical groundwork and assessment needs to be done to enable the actual realisation of bio-diesel production on a large scale in the country. However experts, remain optimistic that such a venture has the potential to become not only an income-generating initiative for locals, but to keep Namibia on par with global trends of making use of cleaner and environmentally friendly products like bio-diesel.

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