Commonwealth countries get knocked down, but get up again

April 15, 2018 |

With 195 countries on the planet today, an impressive 53 countries are Commonwealth countries, including countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific. They include large, rich countries like Canada and Australia all the way to some of the smallest or poorest countries like Malawi and Sierra Leone. They are all meeting this week at their annual “Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting” in London. But what do many of them have in common, other than all being a Commonwealth, which usually means they were at some point part of the British Empire or a dependency of the British Empire? Why, biofuels course.

With about 2 billion people, more or less, they are an impressive group of countries with huge potential. Some of them were probably knocked down at some point as part of British rule, but they got up again. While we don’t have space to write about all 53 Commonwealth countries, we’ll talk about some really exciting ones we are keeping an eye on in the continents of Africa – we’ll leave the Asia, Pacific, Europe, Caribbean and Americas for another day.

Here are the ones we think have been knocked down, but got back up again because like Chumbawamba’s song, you are never gonna keep ‘em down.

Malawi is one of Africa’s poorest countries and the only one in the top 10 poorest African countries list that is included in our list of Commonwealth countries in Africa to keep an eye on – why? Because it is one of the world’s least developed nations but agriculture accounts for over 90% of their export revenues and they have shown true promise in biofuels and bioenergy.

While the country has many challenges, they do have financial aid from the World Bank and the IMF, as well as some projects worth noting. For example, ABR Energy is teaming with Press Corp to produce power from ethanol near its Press Cane ethanol plant in Chikwawa in line with the company’s overall strategy to boost feedstock production that will allow its two ethanol plants to produce ethanol 100% capacity. Presscane and Ethco are investing $100 million in two sugarcane crushing facilities to produce syrup for ethanol production at their existing facilities. Ethanol cookstoves are taking off to help local cassava farmers and residents. The country runs on an E20 blend even though there is no blending mandate by the government, and is looking at E100 across the entire country. The old English proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention” seems to be true in Malawi and we have tremendous hope that they will no longer be on Africa’s Top 10 poorest countries list for much longer, thanks in part to their bioenergy and biofuel projects.

Nigeria is another Commonwealth country to keep an eye on, as we have covered so many stories coming out of Nigeria in the past year that we can’t even list them all here. Nigeria made a top story back in November 2017, as reported in The Digest, that Nigeria was “Rockin’ the cassava.” The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation signed a MoU with the Kebbi State Government to build an 84 million litres per annum capacity fuel-ethanol project, using cassava and sugarcane. WestAfricaENRG that collects MSW in Nigeria teamed with the UK’s Cranfield University and SynGas on a project to produce commercial-scale syngas from plastic waste for upgrading to fuels.

The support by federal and state governments in Nigeria for biofuels have been impressive in recent years with many new projects popping up around the country to diversify their economy and move away from their dependence on oil. With about 186 million people living in Nigeria making it the most populous country in Africa and seventh most in the world, it is set to be a leader in the biofuels future.

Botswana is a Commonwealth country to pay attention to due to their recent work with jatropha biodiesel, especially considering Mozambique recently gave up on jatropha biodiesel. Researchers are pushing hard on B10 using jatropha and aren’t giving up on demonstrating the viability of jatropha for their country’s energy and fuel needs, even with frostbite, heat waves and hailstorms for several years making it more challenging. Japanese researchers have joined them in some of the efforts and are smart about it, using native, indigenous plants like morula, morama and mongongo as well. Japan’s investments in Botswana means they see true potential there and so do we.

South Africa isn’t a surprise on this list as The Digest has covered many news stories about their sustainable aviation fuels, thanks in part to South African Airways vision and collaboration with Boeing, WWF, and SkyNRG. They have some challenges with the country’s powerful mining industry being wary of biodiesel, and they only used 11.4% of duty-free ethanol quota during the first yea of the Economic Partnership Agreement with Southern African Development Community countries. But with The Digest’s Hot 100 #1 winner, Lanzatech being involved in a Swayana (Pty) Ltd feasibility study that will use Lanzatech’s technologies to convert waste gas into a valuable commodity at a plant in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province, there is a lot of movement in the right direction.

Ghana’s work on ethanol using cassava is not letting up either and showing movement forward. China New Energy is constructing a new ethanol plant in Ghana and several others are looking at adding and expanding cassava-to-ethanol plants. Caltech is also expanding into biogas, liquefied carbon dioxide and electricity production. Ghana also has a sugarcane mill that they are eying for ethanol exports while cutting their sugar imports.

Kenya is all about croton – not cotton – for biodiesel and other byproducts like animal feed and briquettes. Penn State researchers have been involved in several related croton projects in Kenya and we see potential there as well. Kenya is also looking at waste-to-energy projects, ethanol cookstoves, and other innovations that make it a Commonwealth country to check out.

Uganda stands out for recent investments being made into the country, like Bionas East Africa’s investment of $70 billion over the course of 25 years in four major bio-based economy projects based on jatropha that will create more than 1.8 million jobs. And the World Bank is now funding a three year project to scale up used cooking oil for biodiesel in Uganda. The government support is there too, with the President pushing for E10 blending mandate to become law. Big investments + government support = lots of potential for Uganda. Zambia almost made our list due to some recent investments there too, but they still need commercial biofuel production and more support to make it happen.

Bottom Line

One thing we noticed is that all of the African continent Commonwealth countries we listed here are part of the Commonwealth Foundation. Why is this interesting? This means that they belong to a group that promotes civil society, democracy and development among members. It means they don’t operate in a silo, but collaborate together. They share governance ideas. They support each other. They focus on equitable and peaceful societies. They learn from each other and share their stories. And they share innovative solutions with each other, making them countries that can make a huge impact on the biofuels economy worldwide. And that’s worth keeping an eye on.

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