HomeRegional NewsAfricaGreen economy: Biodiesel as an alternative fuel and business opportunity

Green economy: Biodiesel as an alternative fuel and business opportunity

Today, millions of litres of used cooking vegetable oils are wasted—thrown away unceremoniously by households and businesses across the globe without realising that it forms a valuable part of the green economy where resources such as biofuels are becoming a valuable commodity.

These used edible oils, known as Waste Vegetable Oils (WVOs), can be converted into biodiesel, which together with bioethanol, biowaste and other renewable sources form part of biofuels—a complementary and alternative energy source to fossil fuels.

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Clean energy technologies

Unlike ordinary diesel, biodiesel is clean-burning and, according to analyst firm ResearchGate, provides exceptional engine performance with more lubricity while also emitting less carbon dioxide and other toxic gasses. In fact, according to ResearchGate, biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 78% (per lifecycle) compared to ordinary diesel.

Worldwide, the production and use of biodiesel are also gaining momentum as countries move towards reducing waste and recycling where possible while also finding ways to lessen their dependence on crude oil-based products.  It is estimated that the production of biodiesel will reach 41.4 billion litres by 2025, says research paper: Biodiesel – From Production to Combustion.

In South Africa, there is a significant opportunity for entrepreneurs particularly those in informal and rural settlements to use WVOs or edible oils in the production and resell of biodiesel.

In Zambia, for example, a young entrepreneur has grown his business from 200 litres of biodiesel – produced from WVOs – to 3,000 litres per month, selling it to local customers for use in vehicles and machinery.

At SANEDI (South African National Energy and Development Institute), the Working for Energy (WfE) programme, in partnership with the Biofuels Business Incubator (BBI) – an incubator under the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) – aims to promote the development of the biodiesel industry and the concomitant skill development for the emerging economy. 

Manufacturing a green economy

As part of its mandate, the partnership has recognised the importance of WVOs and how it can be produced and converted into biodiesel as well glycerines, and thereby create a new industry and associated jobs.

David Mahuma, General Manager: Working for Energy Programme at SANEDI, explains: “Through the Biofuels Business Incubator, we are effectively adding value to waste oils. We are structuring the waste oil collectors to become biodiesel producers as opposed to on selling in the black market, as this is an unhygienic and potentially harmful practice.”

To support this incubation initiative, SANEDI’s WfE and the BBI have developed and deployed South Africa’s first mobile waste oil to biodiesel processing unit, which can reach waste oil collectors in their respective centres in urban areas thereby supporting community members in valorising this biowaste into something more environmentally benign.

“Through ongoing education and training, we’re hoping to incubate a flourishing biofuel industry where communities can all benefit from the collection and upcycling of biowastes into useable products such biodiesel and glycerine that offer viable alternatives to traditional fuels and other products, thereby and supporting the circular economy in a just transition,” Mahuma concludes.

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.