Ethanol for Cooking

Novozymes, ICM project aims to improve health, stop deforestation in Africa
By Holly Jessen | October 18, 2011

In Mozambique, in southern Africa, a small-scale ethanol plant currently under construction is expected to have a big impact on the incomes, health and livelihoods of area residents. The 300,000 gallons of ethanol produced there a year will be sold as cooking fuel, replacing charcoal, which is harmful to the environment and human health.

It’s a project of Novozymes and CleanStar Ventures, which have together formed CleanStar Mozambique. The food and energy business will work with 3,000 smallholder farmers, to help with a transition from slash-and-burn agriculture to sustainable farming. Whatever crops the families do not consume will be sold to CleanStar Mozambique.

The crops will be used to produce a wide range of food products as well as an ethanol-based cooking fuel made from cassava, which will be sold into urban markets, Novozymes says. The business is intended to improve nutrition, increase incomes by up to 500 percent, improve degraded soils, save thousands of acres of forest and safeguard lives from charcoal smoke. “By rethinking biofuel and the African household energy market, we will help poor African farmers make more out of the little they have—and jumpstart a whole new industry that can provide clean and affordable energy to the urban poor,” Anders Lau Tuxen, energy strategist for Novozymes, tells EPM.

Another partner in the project is ICM Inc., which will design and manufacture parts for the ethanol plant. The only exception is fermentation tanks, which will be produced in the region. “These parts will be shipped any day and we expect assembly to start later this year with commissioning taking place next year,” Tuxen says, adding that once the business model has been proved, the companies will consider increasing capacity or building additional plants in other locations.

Eighteen pounds of locally grown cassava chips can be converted to 1 gallon of 185+ proof ethanol, ICM tells EPM. (It takes 20 pounds of corn to make 1 gallon of ethanol.) The cassava milling and cook process is sized to operate 10 to 12 hours a day while the distillation portion of the plant is sized to operate continuously, though it can start or stop as needed. ICM is providing all shop-fabricated and specialty equipment, plus a small custom-built biomass boiler manufactured by Victory Energy for steam production and a generator engine for electricity, modified to run on hydrous ethanol. In addition, ICM will provide training for the local operators.

The biggest design challenge for ICM was selecting small, reliable and low-maintenance pumps. “ICM put a lot of thought into determining what equipment will work best for a location that may not have reliable overnight delivery,” says Dennis Vander Griend, ICM senior process designer. 

—Holly Jessen