Sugar cane farmers could create sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), a cleaner substitute for the petroleum-based fuels used to power aircrafts by using ethanol derived from sugar cane.
A joint study by the South African Canegrowers Association and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials found that this could be a lucrative business opportunity for Mzansi’s sugar cane growers.
Their findings were presented by a task team comprising of cane growers as well as other stakeholders from the sugar industry and government.
The task team was set up under the Sugar Industry Value Chain Masterplan, which in turn was created to draw up a medium- to long-term diversification strategy for the greater value chain.
Researchers found if 50% of the country’s 19 million tonnes of annual sugar cane production was diverted to ethanol production, the result could be the production of some 700-million litres of low-carbon ethanol.
This could in turn be used to make 433 million litres of SAF, either locally or overseas, using “alcohol-to-jet” fuel refineries.
However, a number of important steps would have to be taken to make this possible.
An enabling regulatory framework would have to be created, small-scale growers would have to be assisted to ensure occupational health and safety, and internal farm-level administrative support would have to be provided.
In addition, to promote the use of local labour, preferential labour laws and procurement processes would have to be implemented. Proper impact assessments would have to be carried out and the national greenhouse gas reporting requirement would have to be improved.
Potential value stream
“SA Canegrowers is pleased that the presentation to the value chain diversification task team was well received with members positive about the work done so far,” reported SA Canegrowers chairperson Rex Talmadge.
“Aviation biofuels as a potential value stream for cane growers will now be unpacked further by the task team. We look forward to working together with government and our industry counterparts to come up with a diversification strategy that addresses these current blockages and ensures the long-term sustainability and profitability of the industry.”
The study found that South Africa’s own annual demand for fuel ethanol could reach some 2.4 billion litres. Of this, 75% or 1.8-billion litres, would be for SAF, while 25% or 600 million litres, would be from the “national fuel blending mandate”.