Malawi, the government has begun an ambitious plan to ensure that all vehicles
switch to the cheaper alternative fuel, ethanol, within a few years. The
administration says if the project is successful, it will help the country save
foreign exchange now being spent on imported fuel. Voice of America English to Africa reporter Lameck Masina in
Blantyre says the government of Malawi is fully funding the US $1 million
scientists are working on converting conventional vehicles to run on one or
more fuels. One type of modification is
called “flex” – it can use ethanol, petrol, or any mixture of the two. The
other type can also use either petrol or ethanol but must be manually adjusted
to the type of fuel being used.
Converting a conventional vehicle to use ethanol costs about $650 dollars.
officially launched the project last September with a test drive of a
Mitsubishi-Pajero converted to use ethanol. It covered a distance of 2,100
kilometers at an average speed of 110 km per hour. It went about eight kilometers on a liter of ethanol and 11 on a
liter of petrol. But it was judged a success because ethanol is by far the
cheaper of the two fuels.
Freeman Kalirani leads the research team at the government owned Lilongwe
Technical College, which is under the Ministry of Labor and Vocational
Training. He says the project
is progressing well, “So far, I have converted four vehicles. Two vehicles --
the Nissan and a Mitsubitishi Pajero -- are running 100 percent on ethanol.
And, there are other two vehicles that are running on either petrol or ethanol
or any mixtures of
says the modified Pajero has completed a test drive of 18,000 kilometers at an
average speed of 110 km/hr and no major component of the engine was damaged,
“When you listen to it, people don’t know that it is running on ethanol.
The only [indicator] is the smell that comes from the exhaust. What remains is
that we want to travel a bit longer to have more kilometers covered so that
when we tell the people that ethanol does not damage the engine we are so sure
Kalirani says fuel consumption depends on the
speed and age of the car and that newer vehicles that use ethanol consume about
half as much fuel as ones that use petrol.
show that between 1995 and 2000, Malawi imported up to 90 million liters of
petrol each year. At the same time, the cost rose from $
million to $ million over the
same period. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says in the first half of
this year, a barrel of bio-ethanol in Brazil was half the price of a barrel of
Chikaonda is the chief executive officer of Press Corporation, Limited, a local
conglomerate that owns the only two companies that produce ethanol: Presscane
and Ethanol Company (ETHCO).
Chikaonda says Malawi
produces one of the components of ethanol – molasses, which is made from sugar cane.
ETHCO creates seven million liters of ethanol a year at its plant in
Dwangwa, a town in central Malawi, while Presscane delivers 10.8 million liters
from its plant in southern Malawi.
Each factory is capable
of producing up to 16 million liters a year but is operating below capacity
because of the scarcity of molasses. Chikaonda says it’s possible that the
factories could produce at full capacity because there is room to expand
existing sugarcane plantations.
government is also working with ETHCO to import Brazilian “flex-fuel” vehicles
that can also use the biofuel. The cars are also said to cost a bit less than
cars using petrol.
analysts are advising the government to first ensure the availability of
ethanol in the country’s filling stations before it starts importing the
The decision to use ethanol is in line with the UN Framework on Climate
Change, which encourages governments to take steps to reduce vehicle emissions.
The government says a
switch to ethanol will create employment opportunities in the sugarcane
industry and help save foreign exchange currently being spent on fuel imports.