Is Alternative Fuel the Answer to Economic Development in Answer?
The possibility of alternative fuel replacing in part or wholly, fossil fuels as source of automobile fuel and diesel is being considered globally.
The major issues are related to:
Economics the continuously rising price of fossil fuel
Health issues pollution of the air especially greenhouse gases
Similar inquires and research are going on as regards fuel for other purposes e.g. thermal applications. For example, fusing of atoms of deuterium and tritium (isotopes of hydrogen) has been considered.
Nigeria has an area of 923,768 Sq Km. The population in 1991 was given by the National Population Commission as 88.5 M (previous estimates were 110 million and 120 M)
Economic liberalization policies have led to increased industrial activities even in remote regions, thus placing substantial demand on automobile fuel and diesel.
The demand has continued to increase. Besides the highways, several roads have been constructed to link population and industrial centres.
Question is currently being asked and the situation demands an urgent response.
This paper discusses the options and makes relevant recommendations.
Alternative Fuel vs. Fossil Fuel Global debate
Which fuel? The debate has gone on unabated Fossil fuels vs. alternative sources of energy.
The sincerity of some proponents of one or the other may be in doubt.
a) Fossil fuels in question are:
Oil and natural gas
Coal, lignite, coaly shale, oil shale
b) Alternative sources
International concern on pollution may be indicated by various conferences. Examples include:
i) The Conference on Changing Climate: Implications Global Security, Toronto, Canada 1988. The conference recommended the reduction of carbon dioxide by 20% by the year 2005.
ii) The Conference on Climate Development, Hamburg, Germany called for a 60% reduction of carbon dioxide by the year 2015.
This paper focuses on the debate on alternative fuels (specially biofuels and fossil fuels).
The main issues are related to economics and health.
The price of oil has continued to increase. The price of a barrel was US$15 in 2002 and US$70 in early 2006.
The consequence is a frenzied effort by many countries to have increasing attention to the development of biofuels from organic materials.
b) Health and Economic Issues
The recognition of the dangers of greenhouse emissions and global warning has led to global desire to curb or reduce the same.
A shift to biofuels is considered to be a possible answer for the two categories by an increasing number of countries.
TWAS Report (2006) describes the progress made in the ethanol programme by Brazil.
The biofuels programme supplied 25% of Brazil's energy needs in 2006.
The raw materials for the biofuels production are sugar cane and oil-bearing seeds. An effective ethanol programme requires efficient agricultural cultivation of relevant raw materials, well-tooled production processes, innovative automobile manufactory and the development of broad-based fuel distribution networks.
The benefits of ethanol as a energy source may be summarized as follows:
Ethanol is a much cleaner fuel than petrol (gasoline)
It is renewable since made from plants
Manufacturing ethanol and burning it does not increase the greenhouse effect
It provides high octane at low cost as an alternative to harmful fuel additives
It significantly reduces harmful exhaust emissions
Ethanol can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 100% on a full life cycle basis
High level ethanol blends are able to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 20%
Ethanol's high oxygen content reduces carbon monoxide levels more than any other oxygenate
Ethanol blends significantly reduce emissions of hydrocarbons
Ethanol is an octane enhancer and can cut emissions of cancer-causing benzene and butadiene by more than 50%
Sulphur dioxide and particulate matter (pm) emissions are significantly decreased with ethanol
Ethanol blends can be used in all petrol engines without modification
Research and production on biodiesel are also in progress.
European Union countries has intensified the production of biodiesel to run diesel engines.
Choices for Nigeria
It is an attractive option for Nigeria to embark on biofuels research and production. The benefits have been noted earlier in this paper.
There is a common illusionary belief among Nigerians that the country is self-sufficient regarding oil resources. The subsidy on petrol (gasoline) and the comparative low price has prolonged this apparently incorrect impression.
Examples of key features are:
i) Nigeria currently produce only light crude oil and has for a long period imported heavy crude oil for the refinery in Kaduna.
ii) Additional expenditure is incurred by processing some crude oil abroad because of frequent under-utilization of refinery capacity.
The recent privatization of refineries may alter the position one way or the other. Lessons may be learnt from Brazil regarding the ethanol programme.
Brazil is about eight times the size of Nigeria area of 8.5 million Sq Km and has a population of 188 million. It has currently achieved an input of 25% to 30% input of ethanol in its energy requirements.
Brazil is currently the world's largest producer of ethanol.
Other features are:
a) The ethanol produced sales at half the price of oil per barrel.
b) Seventyfive percent of all new cars in Brazil are now built with flex-fuel engines allowing them to run on gasoline, ethanol or a mixture of the two.
c) Brazil exports more than 2.5 billion of ethanol each year and the opening of a new port at Santos will increased the nations export capacity 5.6 billion litres.
d) About 1.5 million farmers currently cultivate sugar cane for biofuels.
e) The ethanol industry accounts for about 1 million jobs nation wide
f) Besides, sugar cane, Brazil is now producing biofuels from oil palm, castor beans and soyabeans.
The views of some critics
i) The production of biofuels creates potential conflicts between natural vegetation and cultivation, arable and marginal land use and mechanized agriculture and employment opportunities.
ii) There is not enough land for energy crop cultivation and the fear is that the land used for energy crops will come at the expense of land now covered by forests.
iii) There may be a competition between land for food and land for fuel.
iv) Additional flash point may arise between supply and pricing. Production of crops may not keep pace with long-term demand
The U.N, Food and Agricultural Organization [FAO] has cautioned that growing global demand to biofuels could lead to intensive monocultures of crops.[TWAS Newsletter No.2 2006].
Relevant features of the structure of the agricultural sector:
The crops grown in Nigeria, of potential use in the biofuels industry are:
i) Sugar cane
iv) Palm trees (palm oil)
v) Soya beans
vi) Castor seeds
Suitable' grass may be grown for the same purpose. Nigeria has two distinct seasons- the rainy season and dry season. In some places, the rainy season is short and irrigation is necessary to support agriculture.
Sugar cane grows well on a well-drained soil and about 80 to 90 inches of rainfall. The ideal soil is a mixture of silt and clay and some measure of organic material.
Cassava and palm trees grow well in the rain belts of the South.
Maize is produced in several areas both in the North and South.
The broad pattern of soil distribution in Nigeria reflects both the climatic conditions and the geological structure. A generalization (with variations) is possible: heavy leached reddish brown sandy soils are found in the South, while light or moderately leached yellowish brown sandy soils occur in the North.
Nigeria should embark on Research and Development programmes aimed at developing biofuels. The production will initially supplement the use of fossil fuels. Production capacity must be well-planned to grow steady at a suitable pace.
The favourable factors include:
a) Crop production
Nigeria has vast arable lands that could be used for production of the relevant crops for biofuels production without a conflict with the demand for the same crops for food.
Some land (not forests) not currently being cultivated could by appropriate agrogeological input be useful in the crop growing programmes. Irrigation may be used to supplement rainfall as appropriate.
The major agrogeological contributions are:
i) Nutrients as required by the various crops.
ii) Soil conditioners to correct excess acidity or alkalinity.
iii) Modification of structure of the soils.
Regrettably, some of these crops are currently being exported at the expense of food requirements. Some of the crops exported are used abroad for biofuel production.
The proposed programme will follow rational guidelines with particular emphasis on preserving natural vegetation as much as possible.
b) The development of biodiesel should be given immediate attention, since Nigeria imports the necessary heavy crude oil from abroad.
c) Biofuels are produced from plant sources which are renewable. There are uncertainties regarding the oil industry. Oil is an exhaustible resource.
The production of oil and burning it in automobiles or other energy applications have great pollution potentials.
Biofuels production in Nigeria is a desirable economic option. The use of flex-fuel engine will allow the use of either petrol (gasoline) or ethanol or a mixture of both in automobiles. This is a very attractive as it may ensure fuel availability and gradually reduce dependence on oil with attendant environmental hazards.
The development of biodiesel should be regarded as priority as they would reduce the quantity of heavy crude imported.
A multi-disciplinary approach involving a number of relevant experts agronomists, pedologists, engineers among others.
Brazil's current status in biofuels production was the result of over four decades of research.
The biofuels programme in Nigeria should be commenced now. Poor results may result from a poorly planned programme or a programme executed in a rush' due to economic pressures not anticipated.
TWAS 2006: Biofuels in Brazil: Newsletter No.2