Ethanol : a new motor fuel soon

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The inauguration of Omnicane, the new Bio-ethanol Distillery at L’Escalier, is an important industrial development for our country to produce bio-fuel in order to be used, among others, for our motor vehicles. In the near future, we may soon see motor vehicles on our roads with a mixture of petrol and ethanol.

However, according to technicians, the mixture of petrol-ethanol will be ready this year, as the Omnicane distillery needs an extra surplus module to produce ethanol adapted to the engines of our vehicles. This could take at least another six months. This refinery has a capacity to produce 24 million of litres annually. Already Rs 1 billion has been injected in this project as part of ‘Maurice Ile Durable’.

Produced as from the “mélasse”, the ethanol could be mixed with petrol to compose fuel. This is done without having to effect changes at the level of the motor engines when the mixture is done with little doses. A highly elevated mixture could require some changes and modifications of the engines.

But Mauritius doesn’t invent things. In 2002, already the world production of ethanol elevated at 22 billions of litres. And the world champion in such production is Brazil. Brazil is the biggest exporters of these products. It is also the country that consumes the more. More than 80% of new vehicles are equipped with engines ‘flex-fuel’ which permit such vehicles to move well with alcohol combustible at the basis of sugar cane than petrol.

If Mauritius had already tried the production of ethanol with Alcodis, it failed for various reasons. The government has also tested, during a short lapse of time, the mixture of 10% ethanol and 90% petrol on a dozen of vehicles during several years before, but it was another complete failure. In 2011, it was an issue whether to allow a mixture of 50% ethanol and 50% petrol.

Omnicane Company intends to revive the project, even if a part of its production of ethanol will be exported. This distillery will plan a good system of developing its production and at the same time, it will try to expand its business.

Bio-ethanol will reduce the country’s dependency on imported petrol and will also save foreign exchange, which is very important for the country, as it can be invested in other fields of development.

It is a pity that producers have not reassured us of the suitability of these new products to the welfare of the country and of its safety measures. Forty years ago, some of us still remember how the “carburant” we used in vehicles was really explosive and dangerous. Would it be the same old wine in a new bottle?

Let us not forget that bio-ethanol or simply ‘ethanol’ is a renewable energy source made by fermenting the sugar and starch components of plant by-products, mainly sugar cane and crops like grain, using yeast.

Today, bio-ethanol has many uses. It is blended with petrol to make a truly sustainable transport fuel, its use in cosmetic and other manufacturing processes.

Bio-ethanol is classified as a Flammable Liquid Class IB (for Flamability) and Class3 PGII (for Transportation) and is regulated by various standards around the world. Mauritians must familiarize themselves and comply with these regulations in order to safely and legally store, handle, decant and use this fuel. We must have also a properly built area for its storage with the maximum security and safety.

By Ahmad Macky