Discussions on why Nigeria should look beyond oil as its major source of revenue are never in short supply. The call for economic diversification remains a topical issue in Nigeria. Concerned Nigerians are of the belief that our single-resource economic structure accounts for why important national goals remain largely unachieved. While successive administrations did trumpet the need for Nigeria to meaningfully harness her abundant natural resources, the political will to bring their pronouncements to fruition remains the problem. Nigeria cannot afford to be anywhere else at a time other nations are putting plans in place to maximise their natural potential, especially as it relates to renewable energy resource. Countries have realized the need to focus attention on biofuels or ethanol production as a reliable substitute for gasoline e. Debates have been on regarding the need for countries to embrace this largely untapped natural resource whose its benefits far outweigh its hazards.
Biofuels are fuels made from cellulosic biomass resources and they include ethanol, biodiesel and methanol. Biomass processes can be designed to produce solid fuel, liquid fuel, gasses or even electricity. Commercially viable sources of biofuel include some crops, such as sugarcane, sugar beets, cassava etc, also from vegetable oils derived from plant seeds, such as sunflower, linseed and oilseed, as well as animal waste. Development of “Second generation” or “advanced” biofuel using practically any available lingo-cellulosic materials such as trees, stover, crop wastes are also gradually becoming commercially viable. Since primary feedstock of these fuels are plants which are subjected to bio-chemical or thermochemical processes, they are also regarded as bio-renewable energy or fuels since the plants could be grown as often as required. In meeting the huge current and future energy needs of the world, biofuels are very crucial ingredients for sustainable development and have become a vital and indispensible input to the economic needs of our present civilization.
Many countries across the world have realised this and are churning out policies and programmes designed to make them energy self-sufficient. It is therefore worrisome that Nigeria seems to be missing in action, in all of this. The Nigerian government had way back in 2005 conceptualised the bio-ethanol development initiative, but little has been done, in terms of providing necessary legal framework to make it work. It is however surprising that, Nigeria, been home to most raw materials needed to produce biofuels hasn’t embraced it long time ago. If that initiative had been pursued, by now, Nigeria would have developed the required capacity and joined other nations exploiting this renewable energy resource to help offset falling revenues from its declining oil output. The bitter truth remains that, from all realistic projections, the very oil that has blinded our eyes from seeing other potential won’t last more than 40 years and our gas won’t last more than 60 years. I think this revelation should jolt the nation into immediate action.
Heightened advocacy on the usage of ethanol for industrial and other purposes is gaining popularity as a result of the concernsby environmentalists who claim that the production and usage of gasoline fuels and other petroleum products are causing harm to natural environment. Global warming and its effects like flooding are being directly linked by scientists to the fact that vehicles and industries using petroleum products are emitting gasses that are damaging the ozone layer and thereby harmful to the atmosphere. While ethanol is not new in the market, regrettably, its potentials have not been fully explored. In some sub-Saharan African countries, ethanol is brewed locally. But the distillation process is not perfected enough to have a fine spirit. This has encouraged the importation of ethanol. Even then, opportunities still abound to import ethanol and make money distributing it. Embracing or focusing on ethanol production doesn’t imply that we would abandon gasoline.
South Africa has not only realised the enormous benefits in ethanol production, in terms of job creation, curtailing environmental hazards linked to gasoline, boosting business and encouraging economic diversification, but has since designed a legal framework to ensure it succeeds. Even though the task team had recommended a 4.5 percent biofuels penetration programme, the Cabinet limited the biofuels pilot phase to 2 percent of the national fuel demand. This is to ensure that “the extent of the socioeconomic benefits which are expected from the biofuel programme in comparison to the subsidy are felt by the people”. The South African government didn’t stop at that, it went ahead to establish a procedure for applying for the biofuels production license under the Petroleum Products acts of 1977. Also licensed manufacturers were required to obtain necessary licenses and permits required to operate biofuels manufacturing. There is nothing wrong in Nigeria understudying South Africa in this regards. The ethanol production legal framework designed by the South African government took note of issues relating to local content, job creation for citizens, technical requirements, raw materials, environmental regulations, subsidy and other incentives for investors. It is obvious that there is need for Nigeria to explore alternative source of energy especially to create jobs for its citizens, strengthen its energy capacity and address Nigeria’s acute power/fuel energy supply deficit.
- Busari writes in from Abuja.
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