Wednesday, October 29, 2008

GSMA says Nigeria lacks biofuel feedstocks

The global trade association representing over 690 Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) operators across 214 countries of the world, the GSM Association (GSMA) has said that Nigeria lacks relevant feed stocks to sustain biodiesel project.

ITRealms Online recalled that GSMA in collaboration with MTN Nigeria and Ericsson, recently terminated a biofuel project in the country, according to the Head, Marketing Communications at Ericsson West Africa, Mr. Olabode Sowunmi Jnr.
He did not give any reason as to why the project was ended.

But reacting to ITRealms Online inquiries regarding the termination of the project, GSMA through its spokesman, Mr. David Pringle, said that as at the duration of the project, which lasted for eight months, between October 2006 and May 2007 that Nigeria lacked the requisite quantity needed for the sustainability of the project.

“The pilot found that Nigeria didn’t, at that time, have a large enough sustainable source of non-food feedstock,” he declared in an electronic mail (e-mail) made available to ITRealms Online.

Mr. Pringle also noted that the business environment continues to evolve and called on Nigerian mobile operators to come up with the kind of biofuel-powered base stations they envisaged for the telecommunications market in the country.

He further said that the pilot involved base station generator trials in Lagos to support three trial sites located in Badagry, Makurdi, Lagos with biodiesel produced from feedstock and procured in Plateau state.

According to him, potential other feed stocks were assessed from Ogun, Kogi, Benue, Borno and Kano. Stressing that the pilot established the operational feasibility of biodiesel production use in standard tower base stations.

The pilot programme, he said, came to some conclusions, including that availability and proximity of feedstock is critical.

“Although, there are significant investments in jatropha plantations underway in neighboring Mali and to a lesser extent in Nigeria (particularly in the north), a sustainable source of non-food feedstock requires years to become established,” he said.

Portrayed as a non-edible evergreen shrub found in Asia, Africa and the West Indies, Jatropha is seeds containing a high proportion of oil which can be used for the production of biofuel, even as it is noted as a genus of approximately 175 succulent plants, shrubs and trees from the family Euphorbiaceae.

While the key factors that could influence the oil yield of Jatropha plantation are climate, quality of the soil, irrigation, weeding, use of fertilizer, crop density, genotype, use of pesticide and inter-cropping.

In addition, GSMA said that the processing machinery and quality control are critical and “ingredients for transesterification must be available - methanol, fresh water, caustic soda,” he advised.

Mr. Pringle further pointed out that an operator should partner with a regional bio-fuel producer to ensure quality and economics of scale in the venture.

Till date, barely a fortnight after the initial inquiry was made to MTN Nigeria, no official comment has been received from its department of communications on the subject, despite promise by the External Affairs Manager, Mr. Andrew Okeleke who requested for time to confirm whether or not MTN has pulled out of the project finally and what ignited the current state of discontinuation.

MTN Group alongside over 20 operators on the continent were part of the GSMA renewable energy operators recent forum hosted in Kenya by Safricom.

Biofuel result is out of produce from feed stocks that have been grown on idle and marginal land that has not been deforested for the purpose of biofuel crop plantation, resulting in lower carbon emissions than diesel when calculated on a whole of life basis and taking into account the effect of land use changes as well as produced in a manner that contributes to the social and economic development of local, rural and indigenous people and communities.

This development came few weeks after GSMA identified fully with biofuel based on the likely escalation of the cost of generating power for the GSM operators, as well as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector generally.

Equally, industry watchers advocated for alternative source of energy supply, with a greater number favourably endorsing the biofuel method, saying it’s cost effective and at the same time boosting the agricultural produce.

The biofuel project was initially instituted between the trio of MTN, Ericsson and GSMA deploying the GSMA’s Development Fund, which was set up in October 2005, to provide consulting support to innovative pilot projects that use mobile technology to boost social, economic and environmental welfare in developing countries.

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