Ethanol for Kenya

I was reading this NY Times article on how the US corn sector is abuzz over ethanol production with significant subsidy and incentive support from the government.

After that, I decided to google (Kenya + Ethanol) and was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are moves spearheaded by progressive Mumias Sugar (who already into electricity production) to develop ethanol from sugar. (more here).

Pipe dream or not, it’s good to get started and maybe one day Kenya can be fuel self sufficient like Brazil through local ethanol production.

17 thoughts on “Ethanol for Kenya

  1. AfroM

    hear hear!

    Now if the govt could please wake up check out the story in the standard
    kp’s post abt the govt’s sugar act that says ‘No’ to ethanol production.

    It would be good. Is it just me or are we capable of creating a ‘utopian’ society in kenya if we really wanted to? We have so much potential isnt it staggering? Pardon the digression…

  2. bankelele

    AfroM: It’s a shame we have too many old & restricive laws/Acts that always have to be amended to enable new ideas & technologies.

  3. Anonymous

    Yes, Kenya has the potential to produce enough ethanol (cheaper than US) to replace more that 85% of petroleum oil. But, the oil barons will not let that happen; too many entrenched vested interests. Remember it took Mumias 15 years to get a license for electricity generation, so we’re looking into the next 20 years; the world would have moved on by then. Talk of being blind to your potentials, Kenya is a prime example.

  4. Mashatall

    Banks, just watched Al Gore’s movie on global warming, and what we need to introduce eco friendly products that will see us sustain the earth for centuries to come. Guess no Govt. official really pusues any environmental agenda with a passion, except for Wangari Maathai no wonder she won the nobel prize.kenya has alot of young business leaders that have progressive agendas and ideas, the Kideros(mumias), Mahindas(EABL)Adan(Barclays) and Naikunis(KQ) who are elevating kenya’s economy to new levels, but our political leadership really lets us down with their bickering and no long tern agendas for Kenya. Short term resonates well with them coz they only have five years within which to enrich themselves and grab enough to last them forever if they dont get back to parliament.
    Anyone who has been following the energu sector worldwide would have realized that ethanol is replacing MTBE as an additive to fuel sold here in the USA. Etahnol companies are floating IPO’s at a record pace to cash in and get more money to develop their refining capacity. But ethanol produced fron corn is expensive compared to Sugar cane, and thats where Mumias can cash in. Sasol in south africa is minting crazy chums selling ethanol and also expanding into the middle east, so its high time we go down that path or else we will be late to the party as usual ending up with all the crumbs.

  5. chumviKiasi

    anonymous is right, the costs of actually producing the ethanol from sugar and corn and other crops are too high at least for the moment, those costs include the costs of environmental degradation. It would take a very energy efficient system to produce ethanol cost effectively. It does not make sense to use other sources of energy to produce ethanol. Besides sugarcane, is not the most efficient biofuel crop, switchgrass is. On the other hand, at what point do we move from struggling to feed our people to feeding our cars-so to speak. What takes a priority? Will we see land meant for food going to biofuel crop production? On the flip side, using ethanol to replace mtbe is a noble idea. We do need to better use renewable sources of energy, water, solar and nuclear to power a mass transit system that covers the country adequately enough that polluting, inefficient gasoline vehicles can be relegated to the archives 🙂

    Mashatall, the boom on ethanol companies is fizzling out stateside. People are wising up to the difficulty involved in producing ethanol. Same happened to solar in the 80’s. After $100 a barrel oil, that might change.

  6. Ken

    I think we are partly to blame. Kenya has no R&D culture, we just adopt stuff from the west and more recently from the east. We ought to empower our universities and lobby the govt to drop some of this restrictive laws and create a condusive environment for research in the private sector.
    This could lead to some great discoveries but at the moment we are too busy fire fighting and politicking instead of thinking ahead.
    We have the brains but I dont think we have the lobbyists and the advocates. We need people to approach this politicians and infect them with ideas and ask them to go out and advocate for them and make them come true

  7. Ig-know-rant

    There was a molasses plant in Nyanza whose purpose was to produce ethanol alcohol part of which was to fuel cars. THis was an idea that was proposed in the 70s meaning that Kenyans “see far…like giraffes”. Mumias are on the right track. And remember recently Actis lauched a huge $$M fund to be invested in this sector?? All that remains is for parliament to amend our laws. If you recycle cooking oil and put it in your car, you’ll certainly go to jail. I think they still call it fuel adulteration.

  8. bankelele

    Anonymous: Agree, Kenya has the potential to do many things given opportunity and incentives

    Mashatall: Thanks for the tip, will check out Sasol

    Anonymous: Thanks for the dogwood link – v.interesting

    chumviKiasi: etahanol production cost is high, but oil will not be around forever. car companies are trying to take an expensive hydreogen/hybrid route but here’s Brazil, formerly a 3rd world country that has provided a viable solution. I’ll find out more on switchgrass

    Ken: JKUAT (Enterprises) are doing a few things and there are plans to develop incubators at the universites (

    Ig-know-rant: There have been some exotic plans in the past such as Kenren, Spectre and Molases plant. Some were looted, some were flawed and some were political, but we must keep trying (also need appropriate legal framework and tax incentives)

  9. Raymond

    Sure this is a good plan. Look at Brazil, there have most of their cars running on ethanol. Here in the U.S its not gonna work simply because of the vested interest of the oil companies and thier influence on members of congress of both parties. But for Kenya i do not see why we do not do it.Even if we did not use it locally initially, we can export it.Black people we are always begging for donor aid and cannot seem to figure things out quick enough, especially our current politicians.

  10. persona

    Not withstanding the sugar act we can still produce ethanol. In fact most people don’t know that Muhoroni’s Agrochemical & Food Co. has been producing ethanol and yeast for years, both for export and for local domestic consumption. In fact all the cheap ‘whiskies’ and ‘vodkas’ that we have are based on their ethanol. Raila’s Speectre has also started producing ethanol and yeast too. (Kwani where do you think he’s financing those soccer adds from?) Based on the increase of fuel prices, it seems to me ethanol based fuel will be a reality. Chumvikiasi’s flip side observation on “What takes a priority? Will we see land meant for food going to biofuel crop production?” I think is mute considering we grow tobacco that’s killing us, tea and coffee that we mostly don’t drink, and even vegetables that we don’t eat! not to even talk of flowers. P.S. Ethanol isn’t the only biofuel, we could also make biodiesel which could power our trucks, FW Drives, KPLC’s emergency power generators etc.
    P.S. Interestingly enough Agrochemicals is partially owned by the government

  11. Mimmz

    Ethanol is definitely a good idea for as long as Kenya is an agricultural society. Granted, there are factors to be considered such as cost, both monetary and not. But I think key issues would be to consider what would be given up to grow either corn, or sugar cane if they suddenly became the money makers because of producing fuel. The big question is how to maintain control so as to ensure enough food is still grown to meet society’s needs. Additionally, basic steps to good all year round farming, such as irrigation, need to be addressed first.

    Banks, do you have a blog stalker leaving not so pleasant comments ama what’s with the deleted comments? Media censorship Banks style 🙂

  12. Anonymous

    The food v. biofuel debate misses the point. For all I know, sugarcane is not “food”, and we produce enough of it, with potential for more. The right question should be, “which is cheaper to procure in the international market, food or fuel?”

    If ethanol can offer farmers higher incomes, why not switch, then rely on the market for food? The Rift Valley alone can produce all the food we need, if well utilized. It’s food security that’s important, not food self-sufficiency. Moreover, there’s vast swathes of marginal land in Kenya that could be put under biofuel trees, like Jatropha, etc.

    If it was maize for fuel, I’d be worried. However, with the US relying on expensive corn, world market prices for ethanol will be very lucrative for sugar cane producers. Brazil currently produces ethanol at US$30 a barrel. Their FlexFuel engines are selling like hot cakes. And the energy cost per unit of ethanol from sugar cane is one-tenth that of corn. I’d say, we should aggressively go for it.

  13. bankelele

    persona: Thanks – I’ll try and follow up with Agrochemical. I wonder how many of our cars can use Ethanol without engine modification.

    Mimmz: No blog stalkers, most comment are deleted (and reposted) by authors

    Anonymous: Kenya has massive sugar potential, it can be done in hot dry areas (and am sure irrigation costs will be cheaper than oil imports over the long term)

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