Sugar cane lights up Middle Sabi

Welcome to Green Fuel, the company behind the massive Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi ethanol project – Zimbabwe’s first ethanol-only plant. Company officials say Green Fuel is now ready to churn out the first of an annual production of 500 million litres of the green liquid that will herald a new era of huge savings in fuel substitution and cleaner energy for the local motorist.

Green Fuel is a project driven by wealthy Zimbabwean businessman Billy Rautenbach and a consortium of local investors in partnership with the government’s Agriculture and Rural Development Authority, ARDA.

At its peak, says plant manager Peter Glaum, the Chisumbanje ethanol project – and ARDA’s cane growing adjacent farms operated by the private investors trading as Rating (at Middle Sabi) and Macdom (at Chisumbanje) – will create employment for more than 8000 people, becoming one of the single largest job creation ventures in the country in recent years.

Already, the venture is chewing more than $600000 every month in salaries alone for 120 full-time employees and hundreds of contract workers from villages dotted around the ARDA estates. The windfall has transformed the lives of people in Chisumbanje, including others at growth points such as Checheche and in towns as far afield as Chipinge and Chiredzi.

According to Glaum, 5500 hectares of cane is now grown at ARDA’s Middle Sabi (2000 ha) and Chisumbanje (3500ha). By the end of the year (Phase One of the project) about 8000 ha would be under irrigation at the formerly derelict State-owned farms.

The whole project, in which $220 million has been sunk, will result in the production of 40000 ha of sugar cane-for-ethanol in 10 to 15 years, says Glaum. At optimum level, the three plants (Chisumbanje, Middle Sabi and Nuanetsi), will churn out 500 million litres of ethanol annually, thereby dramatically reducing Zimbabwe’s huge fuel bill and changing the way local motorists power their vehicles.

The plant at Chisumbanje, now at commissioning stage, is expected to produce 350000 litres of ethanol daily and will start operating fully in September.

Another major aspect of the massive ethanol project would be the production of 18 megawatts of electricity to be channeled into the ZESA national grid. Residents of Middle Sabi (and the whole of Manicaland) are keeping fingers crossed that the parastatal

will allow some of this power into their homes and light up villages, growth points and the city of Mutare. Out of the 18 megawatts, only 4 megawatts would be used to power the plant and the estate at Chisumbanje.

Glaum says depending on the calorific value of the current crop at Chisumbanje, he expects the plant to produce between 2 to 3 megawatts of electricity in two months. On the ethanol side, the fully automated Brazilian-style plants would produce two types of fuel; E15 which is 15% ethanol and E85, a more highly concentrated variety.

Zimbabwean motorists with cars manufactured after 2002 would be able to buy and fit a cheap fuel adaptor to power engines with E85 fuel, which is 85% ethanol and expected to cost a fraction of petrol. According to experts such an adapter would sell for about $100
locally.

FACTFILE:
500 million litres: Annual amount of ethanol from Chisumbanje, Middle Sabi and
Nuanetsi in the next 10 years.
$220 million: Money sunk in the rehabilitation of ARDA estates at Chisumbanje and
Middle Sabi and cultivation of sugar cane for ethanol.
8000 ha: Total area under cane production in the first phase of the project.
8000 workers: Full-time and casual employees at the two estates in the first phase of the
project.
5500 ha: Area already under sugar cane at Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi estates.
18 megawatts: Of electricity to be channeled into the ZESA grid from ethanol during the
first phase.
4 megawatts: Electricity to be consumed at Chisumbanje by the plant and estate.