THE use of locally produced cheaper biofuels especially E85 is increasing rapidly with Harare alone now having over 2 000 petrol vehicles that are now flex fuel compliant. E85 is the highest blend ratio of ethanol and unleaded fuel available on the market. It comprises 85 percent locally produced ethanol and 15 percent foreign sourced unleaded fuel.
According to ethanol producers Green Fuel, a significant number of the 2 000 vehicles are public service vehicles that are deriving positive results from a cost-benefit analysis.
“Our database of fuel upgrade kits on the market reflects a whole range of vehicles makes, from top range high compression Mercedeses, Volvos and Jeep Cherokees to the smaller units such as Toyota, Mazda and Nissan families.
“Some of our biggest clients for the upgrade kits are coming in the form of commuter omnibus operators running huge fleets and keen to minimise fuel costs. To date, over 2 000 cars have been upgraded to flex fuel status meaning they can run on unleaded or up to 85 ethanol mixes alternatively,” said the company in a statement.
Local transport operator Mr Tererai Mapfoche of Pfochez Logistics said he had converted 11 of his commuter omnibuses to use E85 in June this year.
“The cars were fitted with the conversion kits two months ago and so far they have been performing better than before,” he said.
He said although the fuel consumption on his vehicles had increased slightly, there was a significant increase in profits as the fuel was cheaper than unleaded petrol.
Unleaded petrol costs an average of US$1,50 per litre while E85 costs US$1,10 per litre.
“We took the use of E85 as an opportunity to maximise on our profits because the fuel is very economic. We use more fuel but at a lesser price and still achieve the same performance from the vehicle,” he said.
However, despite the huge interest in the fuel, Green Fuel said the major challenge confronting the rollout programme for higher than mandated E5 ethanol blends has been the limited retail presence at service stations for E85 making the product inaccessible for potential clients outside Harare.
So far only 12 service stations in Harare are selling E85 priced from US$1,08 to US$1,10 per litre.
“We are working flat out to register an E85 presence on a national scale and in this regard we call upon centrally located service station operators with workshops to come forward and partner us in setting up kit fitting centres throughout the country.
“Our fuel upgrade kit is being offered for free to give all eligible motorists an opportunity to experience a home-grown product. The presence of E85 is also a major threat to foreign fuel brands who control the most retail infrastructure through supply contracts and as a country we still need to explore other policy frameworks to ensure that the growth of local products is not stifled through unfair competition from foreign industries,’ said Green Fuel.
Any fuel injection petrol engine can be upgraded to run on E85 and this generally covers models manufactured from as early as 1990 when vehicles manufacturers started replacing carburettors with direct fuel injection systems.
A Green Fuel spokesperson said the use of higher mixes of locally produced ethanol with unleaded such as E85, presents Zimbabwe with huge prospects to not only grow the local industry but also to create the much needed employment through import substitution of up to 85 percent of its fuel bill.
“It also positively impacts on the country’s Gross Domestic Product through the supply of ethanol into the Sadc region,” said the spokesperson.