South Africa has the intellectual capital and natural resources to produce renewable bioenergy to power cars, contribute to the national power grid and create thousands of jobs

South Africa has the intellectual capital and natural resources to produce renewable bioenergy to power cars, contribute to the national power grid and create thousands of jobs, says the University of Stellenbosch’s Professor Johann Görgens.

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Although the country already produces substantial amounts of renewable energy, new investments are primarily driven by government institutions, such as PlantBio Trust, the Central Energy Fund and the South African National Energy Research Institute. 
“These institutions are willing to face the financial risks associated with these investments under less-than-ideal conditions owing to their mandate for socioeconomic development and job creation.”

He adds that the lack of active participation from private investors is largely attributed to a
perceived lack of incentives that will encourage investors to enter the biofuels market.

The absence of mandatory blending, for 
instance, is one of the key issues causing private investors to drag their feet.

He adds that another issue, which continues to be the bone of contention, is the feed-in tariff (the price government will pay when buying electricity generated from renewable resources).

He explains that the bioenergy industry has the potential to create thousands of jobs and make an impact on poverty; however, this must be done in a responsible and sustain
able manner, by avoiding the use of food crops and resources allocated for food production.

PlantBio Trust executive portfolio manager for biofuels Dr Sandile Ncanana explains that the trust has developed a strategy based on inter- 
national trends in technology development.

More importantly, he avers: “The trust also considers biofuels production in a South African and African context when it comes to issues such as crops, climate, land availability and sustainability. The aim is to balance social, economic and environmental needs. The conversion of biomass residues from agriculture, such as lignocelluloses, and nonfood crops, such as sweet stem sorghum, to bioenergy 
can be the right step towards sustainable production of second-generation biofuels.”

Bioenergy is made from any material derived 
from renewable biological sources, unlike 
fossil fuel. A simple example is heat produced by burning wood. In many parts of the world, agricultural products like maize, soya beans and sugar cane are being grown for biofuels 
production.

In South Africa, government has been very clear through the Biofuels Industrial Strategy that food crops or land currently being used for food cultivation will not be used for biofuels production.

University of Pretoria plant biotechnology graduate Thabang Bambo says food security 
in the developing world is a major impediment to biofuel production.

He adds that there is a feeling that food sources will be threatened if agricultural land is used for biofuels production. “At the same time, the potential for bioenergy to create jobs and reduce environmental damage is recognised, and biotechnology can help develop new energy crops that can grow on land that is not [suitable] for food production.”

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