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Africa Finds Energy Independence with Swedish Biodiesel

Biodiesel has gotten a bad rap for using valuable food crops. Now, several African countries are producing their own biodiesel from non-food materials, and the technology to do it comes from a family business in Sweden.

Symbolic picture of a gas pump labelled 'Biodiesel' and an empty food dish

The problem with biodiesel is that it's been made with valuable food crops

Each year, restaurants throw out millions of liters of oil that has been used for frying and cooking. But Gert Frykeras' company in Norrkoping, just south of Stockholm, takes that waste and turns it into biodiesel.

The process avoids the moral dilemma of turning potential human food into fuel and, in a world facing severe food shortages, his machines have won international attention.

Zambia is one of several African countries which now run biodiesel processors made by Frykeras. Since fossil fuels are subject to rapidly fluctuating prices and are transported on complex supply roots, it's particularly important for developing countries to find alternatives.

Zambia is in a particularly difficult position because it is totally landlocked and has no petrol resources of its own.

"Consumption is forecast to double in the next five to six years, most of it is consumed by the mining industry, which is very big in Zambia," said Claude Morrisey, managing director with Zambia's leading biofuel developer Oval. "More and more the cost is escalating, as the cost of trucking it into the country increases."

The Swedish biodiesel processors now running in Zambia rely exclusively on inedible raw materials, said Morrisey.

Independence from fossil fuels

Jatropha plant

Jatropha is one of the non-food plants used to make biodiesel

Rwanda and the Ivory Coast have also recently benefited from Frykeras' technology. In the Ivory Coast, a Swedish biodiesel processor produces enough fuel to run all the machinery needed on a large palm oil plantation.

Frykeras said the plantation, which produces 300,000 liters (80,000 gallons) of palm oil each day, wasn't always able to receive fuel deliveries, due to the unstable conditions in the country.

"They have a small machine producing biodiesel for their own consumption within the plantation, and that way they've become independent from importing fossil diesel," said Frykeras.

Biodiesel from waste material is carbon neutral, and releases nearly 80 percent less CO2 than petroleum diesel. However, the amount of raw materials available isn't sufficient to fully replace fossil fuel.

Nevertheless, non-food biodiesel processing allows developing countries like Zambia, Rwanda and the Ivory Coast to support their own growing energy needs and gain independence from oil-producing nations.

And if oil becomes scarce, countries that produce biodiesel could become sought-after exporters.

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