Small biodiesel plants can be viable

Until African governments subsidise industrial biofuels production to levels similar to those in Brazil, the US and Europe, small-scale production of biofuels seems to be the most likely form of biofuels development in Africa.
Small-scale local biofuels (particularly biodiesel) production is likely to be a viable possibility where feedstock is produced locally in surplus and will be used in-house or locally, escaping fuel taxes and levies, distribution and marketing costs, etc.
Small biodiesel plants
Small biodiesel production plants, which normally produce batch sizes of 200 to 1,000 litres, are supplied by a number of companies, including Shaval and African Alternate Energy of South Africa; and Green Fuels and Bioking of Europe.
All these plants and most of the world’s industrial plants are based on the same technology which involves reacting the triglycerides of animal fats and vegetable oils to methyl esters with alcohol. This produces biodiesel which has similar properties to mineral diesel.
In fact, the original diesel engine, over a century ago, was designed to run on peanut oil. However, the modern diesel engine needs the vegetable oil to be converted to lower viscosity biodiesel.
Shaval
A farmer in the Sasolburg area of South Africa has successfully introduced the production of biodiesel from sunflower seeds into his business, saving almost 20% on the diesel it uses.
The biodiesel value chain is completely contained within the farming operation. The farm produces the sunflower seed that is processed into biodiesel that is used in the transport fleet; the sunflower press cake by-product is used on the farm in feed formulated for feedlot sheep.
The investment in plant was affordable – in the order of $100,000.
The plant was supplied by Shaval, which specialises in turnkey operations with up to 4,000-litre batch sizes.
Shaval: Tel +27 11 704 0801; fax +27 11 462 4474; info@shaval.co.za ; website: www.shaval.co.za
African Alternate Energy
AAE currently offer plants producing biodiesel batched from 60 litres to 1,890 litres. It is planning to offer a continuous semi-automated batch unit to produce international-specification biodiesel 24 hours a day.
African Alternate Energy: Tel +27 11 237 9760; fax +27 11 314 0219; marcel@aae.co.za; www.africaoils.co.za
Green Fuels
Green Fuels is a UK-based company supplying the Fuel Pod and Fuel Meister range of plants with batch sizes from 40 litres to 600 litres, as well as larger continuous plants with capacities of up to 150,000 litres per day.
Over 450 of the small plants have been installed in Britain for domestic or small business fuel use. Green Fuels claims these plants can produce biodiesel at as low as 60p ($1.20) per litre (some 30% lower than the fuel pump price) when using used cooking oil.
Green Fuels only offers a process guarantee on its plants of larger that 1,000 litres per day.
Green Fuels: Tel +44 1453 828003; fax +44 1453 823350; info@greenfuels.co.uk ; www.green-fuels.co.uk
BioKing
BioKing is a Netherlands-based company that supplies a 220 litre batch plant as well as larger continuous plants from 12,000 litres per day. It also sells purpose-designed equipment to neutralise and degum oil, refine glycerine, recover alcohol and wash oil.
BioKing is also currently involved with oil production projects in Africa based on jatropha, palm oil and other oil sources.
BioKing: Tel +31 113 311499; fax +31 113 567097; info@bioking.nl ; website: www.bioking.nl
There are many other companies which also supply small plants, as well as a "homebrew" industry that looks at smaller batch sizes – down to the Dr Pepper 2-litre process (see www.biodieselcommunity.org/makingasmallbatch ).