From Uche Usim, Abuja
When the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, assumed office in 2015, one of the programmes he highlighted the Muhammadu Buhari administration would face headlong was biofuels production which he described as the future of combustible energy.
Consequently, he challenged the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to fast track the development of the National Biofuels Policy and incentive document to provide an enabling environment for the biofuels industry to thrive.
Though the policy was initiated in 2007, the government has not mustered the necessary political will to properly articulate and implement it.
But the Acting Executive Secretary/Chief Executive of PPPRA, Victor Shidok, on February 3 held a stakeholders’ meeting to outline ways of actualising planned biofuels production in the country. At the event, he described the project as the country’s new economy of the country, while urging stakeholders to support it.
In this interview, he speaks more on the gains of biofuel.
Upon assumption of office, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, challenged the PPPRA to fast track the development of the National Biofuels Policy and incentive document to provide an enabling environment for the biofuels industry to thrive. Though the policy has been initiated since 2007, we have not been able to muster the necessary political will to properly articulate and implement the policy. You may recall the dissatisfaction of stakeholders with the existing gazette on biofuel policy, which is import-dependent and import-driven. The gazette, which was roundly rejected by all stakeholders, necessitated a policy review, which is now ongoing and coordinated by the PPPRA.
In the process of this review, we have ensured that all stakeholders made inputs with a view to ensuring wider acceptability. You will all agree with me that it is important that the emphasis of government on domestic production and self-sufficiency should be the primary focus of all stakeholders, in our quest to develop a pragmatic biofuels policy for the nation. However, with the relentless efforts of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, this administration has decided to give the biofuels a new impetus to enable Nigeria and Nigerians enjoy the benefits derivable therein.
Biofuels as a source of energy, when fully adopted, would create employment opportunities, support agricultural development and can as well be used to generate electricity. Other benefits of biofuels include being environmentally friendly, less pollution, cheaper as well and will become a good foreign exchange earner. Biofuels simply comprise bio-ethanol and bio-diesel, which are blends of petroleum products and agricultural products. Bio-ethanol E-10, for instance, is a blend of 90 per cent gasoline and 10 per cent ethanol, while bio-diesel B-20 is a blend of 80 per cent diesel and 20 per cent oil from Jathropha, used palm oil, among others. This harmony will lead to more job creation in the petroleum and agricultural sectors of our economy.
A lot more advantages accrue from this industry, which offers an alternative to fossil fuel thus providing cleaner and cheaper energy. In fact, it is the new economy of Nigeria. That is where the world is going and Nigeria cannot be left out. It is worthy of mention that this great initiative is being undertaken in conjunction with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), state and Federal Government, ministries and other stakeholders, which include feedstock farmers, blenders, depot owners and potential investors. No matter how laudable government initiatives are, they cannot enjoy good success without the buy-in of the people for whom such policies are designed in the first place. That is the reason why we need the media at this critical moment of our national experience to help spread the gospel to all Nigerians.
Where we are
The policy is still at the draft stage. What we have done at our level in PPPRA is coordination. This is to ensure that we bring in key stakeholders, who are interested in the development of the biofuel, carry them along, come up and articulate their interests and concerns and send them to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources because it is the supervising Ministry. Bear in mind that this policy cuts across different ministries and agencies in Nigeria, especially the CBN. You can talk about Ministry of Environment and Agriculture, including others that are interested. So basically, it will be an all-encompassing project that captures the interests and the role expected of every agency that keys into the production of biofuels in Nigeria.
Stakeholders’ roles are being designed, but coordination for now is being handled by the PPPRA. However, the eventual document that will come out will define who should be the driver. Right now what we are doing is to get the policy right so as to be able to deliver the best once we kick off the process of producing biofuels in commercial quantities for the domestic and export markets.
Basically, when you have a policy of this sort, you could have your timeline because everything needs to be planned out very well. However, while executing the plan, you could have some kind of challenges. That notwithstanding, what we are looking at is that since certain crops can give their yields within a year and then go into production again, our target is that in the next two years, hopefully if this policy receives the attention of the necessary authority, we should be able to see visible signs of the production of ethanol for biofuels in Nigeria.
You said there are concerns that the production of ethanol may trigger competition for cassava, either to be used as food or in biofuels production. Well, to answer that, I’ll say that if we want to move forward as a nation, we must revamp agriculture and it is one of the key aspects being tackled by this administration. However, in the production of bio-diesel, the main component needed for it is Jathropha and this plant does not compete with any food crop because it is not edible for human beings or for animals. For ethanol, you will notice that in the past few years, the Federal Government has galvanised the production of cassava to such a level that all of us are enjoying the benefits now. The contribution of cassava to the production of ethanol is not going to have any serious effect on its consumption by human beings. The most important thing is that the adoption of the policy is going to make all of us to work harder, it will make us look at how we can mechanise our agricultural sector in order to reduce the stress associated with it, as well as empower the average farmer to produce much more than he is presently producing. At the end of the day, I believe that based on the wide consultations and engagements being done currently, we are going to have farm produce that are going to be enough for domestic use and for export. So there won’t be problems about cassava usage because based on the policy, our farmers are going to be enabled to produce much more than will be required. This new policy is all-encompassing as it captures virtually all the concerns of everyone regarding the production of ethanol for biofuel.
Percentage of ethanol
We cannot just go into production and have sufficient biofuels to meet the demand we are targeting. So hopefully, when production starts, if we are able to get the required volume for E-5, which is five per cent ethanol in petrol, then we will begin with that. We hope to graduate to E-10. And bear in mind that Nigeria may be the first country within West Africa to go into full production of biofuels if this policy comes into play. Ours is not primarily the domestic requirement, but you know it will provide another means of foreign exchange when you export to other West African countries. So we are going to concentrate on the West African market because when you look at the volume of petroleum products being consumed in this sub-region and then where it comes from, you will notice that it is huge and the commodity is coming mostly from Europe.
So what we are trying to do is to see that we cut that portion of import that can easily be used for the blending of ethanol in order to ensure that those countries can have savings and again, there will be savings for Nigeria. Also, our target is to see how we can engage our youths in the production of agricultural feedstock that provides the necessary inputs for the production of ethanol. When that policy is full blown, naturally you will expect that migration from the rural areas will be reduced. For most of the people you see migrating are doing so due to the fact they don’t have gainful things to do in their villages.
Are Nigerian vehicles configured for biofuels?
I can tell you that the vehicle many of us use today can take up to E-10 of biofuel. You will only have a challenge when you go beyond E-10. Your engine is configured to absorb and adequately run on E-5 and, of course, unknowingly we are making use of it in our cars at times. But the moment you go above E-10, which is 10 per cent of ethanol and 90 per cent of gasoline, you will start feeling the impact in your vehicle engine. Bear in mind that countries that have already gone far in the use of biofuels now have their cars configured to run on 80 to 100 per cent of ethanol. For instance, in Brazil, you have 80 per cent configuration, while in Israel you have 90 per cent. Nigeria, on the other hand, is just at the starting stage, which is why we are planning to begin with E-5. You should also know that another name for ethanol is alcohol, so that your readers won’t think it is something so difficult to produce or get. Therefore, it is important to start diversifying and to commence the use of biofuels because various countries of world, during several international fora, agreed to stop the use of fossil fuels considering its harsh impact on the climate and our environment. The agreement, however, is that the use of fossil fuel should be phased out gradually and should be done in stages. The President of this country also attended the conferences on climate change and Nigeria signed to the agreements reached at those meetings to cut down activities that pollute the environment through the use of renewable energy like biofuels. So it is a way to go and it is important we get going now.