The proposed biofuels project designed to diversify the Nigerian economy is motivated by three core values and strong convictions. First, is the urgent need to address the environmental risks associated with carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere which deplete the ozone layer and has destroyed approximately 30% of arable farmland across most of the states in the northern geographical belt of Nigeria on account of a thick covering of powdery sand dunes which cannot support life or vegetation. Second, the need to help Nigeria promote her climate change mitigation and adaptation ambition and fulfil the requirements of nationally determined carbon reduction plan in the context of sustainable development, poverty eradication, food security, arrest of youth restiveness and farmer’s/herdsmen clashes. Third is the need to generate employment pervasively and create wealth for prospective investors and millions of Nigerians who have lost their main source of livelihood to the devastating effects of global warming.
In tandem with the above is the electric power supply situation which continues to slow down the economic development of the nation. For a country like Nigeria, the need for sufficient energy to jump-start economic development and propel her into the 21st century is extremely critical. Whereas South Africa already generates, transmits and distributes over 40,000 megawatts of electricity for public consumption, Nigeria has continued to doodle over the generation, transmission and distribution of a mere 4,000 megawatts. This project helps to correct this avoidable lapse as it fills the electric power infrastructure gap with biomass off-grid power.
The Federal Government of Nigeria signed both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC whose provisions require amongst other things that Nigeria should abandon the use of 100% pure gasoline for transportation, as it pollutes the atmosphere, in preference for the E -10 gasoline/ethanol blend made up of 90% gasoline with 10% fuel ethanol. The industrial production of fuel ethanol which has practically no emission of GHGs and other pollutants and which improves rural income and employment, enhancing foreign exchange inflow and is generally looked upon as the starting point for the creation of a green economy therefore became a national strategy in which the proposed project finds relevance. For this purpose, the Federal Government of Nigeria approved the Nigerian Biofuels Policy and incentives package and published it as the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 72 Vol. 94 of 20th June 2007.
The proposed project is therefore a bold idea that revolves around the sustainable production of fuel ethanol, using sweet sorghum as raw materials. The leaves of sweet sorghum is fed to animals ranched in modern feedlots; while the stalk is crushed, brix is extracted, fermented and distilled into fuel ethanol and the bagasse is burnt to generate electric power. Cashew and other economic legumes are planted to demarcate daily crushing acreages. Droppings from the ranched animals are returned to the soil in the form of organic fertilizer to complete the sustainability cycle.
Sweet sorghum is one of the most promising feed stocks for biofuels production. There are several advantages to growing this crop. First, it is native to Nigeria, is hardy and thrives in arid conditions such as obtains from the middle-belt to the northern parts of Nigeria and West Africa where precipitation is low and access to irrigation water is limited. At the same time, it is able to withstand storms, flooding and pests, thus reducing the risk of crop failure and use of synthetic pesticides.
Second, yield of fuel ethanol from sweet sorghum in a single planting cycle of four (4) months is comparable to that of sugarcane (twelve (12) months) and by far better than cassava (seven (7) months). Being such a short duration crop, it can be grown for three cycles within twelve (12) calendar months as compared to just one cycle for sugarcane. Also, the input requirement for irrigation water is low. Substitution of synthetic fertilizers for the organic variety speaks to the ethical values of the American, European and Asian importers of beef fattened with sweet sorghum leaves. It thus provides substantial returns to farmers given the fact that they are able to sell every part of the crop, including the grains, the leaves and the stalks.
Third, the production cost of ethanol from sweet sorghum is low and ranges between US$0.29 to US$0.32/liter using the data for Open Pollinated Sweet Sorghum Varieties (“OPV”) generated at the Feedstock Research Department of Global Biofuels Ltd and confirmed by the Federal University of Technology, Akure. This is lower than the feedstock costs of sugarcane, cassava, maize and molasses per liter of bioethanol. With hybridization, and improved farm mechanization, the crop productivity (for brix and bagasse) is expected to improve and the feedstock costs will surely go down. Hence, while the prospective investors can earn reasonable rates of return using the sweet sorghum OPV‘s as feedstock, they can also look forward to improved incomes as new varieties are developed.
Fourth, sweet sorghum can sequester carbon dioxide better than other crops and this peculiarity of the crop can be traded in the carbon market under the Clean Development Mechanism (“CDM”) to boost foreign exchange earnings. Additional earnings from carbon and methane credits through the use of biomass for electricity generation, methane gas capture and utilization from livestock production practices that emphasize switching of pasture grasses with the highly nutritious sweet sorghum leaves supplemented with small amounts of bagasse, grains and soybean cake residues and other financial measures indicate the profitability of bioethanol production from sweet sorghum. For a pilot plant capacity of 103 KLPD or the standard refinery of 240KLPD the NPV and IRR is $185-193 million and 29-31% respectively. The payback period is 5 years in both cases. The figures are even more promising for higher plant capacities.
Demand for ethical products from markets in Europe, USA, Japan and China is huge. Investments from these countries who are themselves signatories to both Kyoto protocol and Paris Agreement in addition to available commercial technologies and the prospects for multiple revenue earnings from the export of organic sorghum grains, livestock, cashew nuts, canned citrus fruits, hides and skin, diary and quality beef, carbon and methane credits (all from the same plant) hold great prospects that will attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the form of equity participation, mezzanine, debt or Sellers Credit cover. This is even so as the global community as represented by the United Nations has correctly identified the harmful effects of global warming and are taking collective action to remedy the situation by creating a Green Fund for the purpose of encouraging developing economies to embark on green development that help their mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Endorsing the project for implementation not only in Nigeria but across the entire West African Sub-region, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, then President of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and current UN Secretary General’s Representative in West Africa said amongst other things that:
Continuing, Dr. Chambas also said:
i. The project also fits into our infrastructure development initiative in the area of the generation of power to meet both domestic and industrial requirements in all the 15 member states. In particular the following are of interest to the Commission;
a. The production of ethanol from the sugar extracted from the sweet sorghum stalk and the subsequent use of the ethanol to produce biofuels
b. The burning of the stalk for energy generation.
ii. By implementing this project, the region will also contribute to the global initiatives being undertaken under the Copenhagen declaration to address the global climate change challenge.
For more information on biofuels production visit the Global Biofuels Ltd website: globalbiofuelsnig.com