Africa’s First Sustainable Biofuel Plant Opens in Mozambique

Operations Manager Andre Roberts Describes the Plant to Federal Minister of Agriculture, José Pacheco

Today marked the grand opening of the largest industrial park in Mozambique -and it’s got a sustainable edge to boot.

NDZiLO’s ethanol plant in the province of Dondo has a capacity to supply two million liters of cassava-based ethanol. The cassava will be grown by local farmers using a sustainable crop rotation system developed by the company’s agriculture experts.

NDZiLO was founded in partnership with CleanStar Ventures and Novozymes to provide an improved cooking solution for the people of the urban centers of Mozambique (where the price of charcoal has tripled in the past 3 years.) The ethanol burns cleaner than charcoal – which means houses and lungs stay cleaner, and deforestation is reduced.

Said Steen Rilsgaard, CEO of Novozymes, “I’ve seen many ethanol plants in the world and this is the smallest, but it is also the one that makes me the most proud.”

In addition to CleanStar Ventures and Novozymes, Bank of America Merril Lynch has invested in the carbon credits that will come from the project (more on that in another post) and ICM provided in-kind donations of materials and labor to build it, in addition to a substantial financial contribution.

Companies are falling over each other to get involved because the project is not only sustainable (reducing deforestation and health risks associated with charcoal cooking), but it has a solid business plan that’s completely vertically integrated – from the farmers who grow the cassava to the ethanol production facility to the cookstoves themselves.

The plant will produce around 30,000 liters of fuel per week at full capacity, which will be transported to Maputo on a weekly basis, according to Andre Roberts, Operations Manager of the ethanol plant.

Right now the plant is at 25% capacity, due to the fact that the marketing and operations teams that sell the stoves and fuel need to ramp up demand. Around 500 stoves are currently in use in the market with another 2,200 pre-orders in place. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider that NDiLO has only marketed in a single neighborhood, and 80% of the addressable market chose to place an order.

“We never estimated this much customer demand,” says Thelma Venichand, CleanStar’s Director of Sales and Marketing. “City women are tired of watching charcoal prices rise, carrying dirty fuel, and waiting for the day that they can afford a safe gas stove and reliable supply of imported cylinders. They are ready to buy a modern cooking device that uses clean, locally-made fuel, performs well and saves them time and money.”

The ethanol plant managers anticipate a surplus of cassava and have plans in the works for a cassava flour factory seated next to the ethanol plant.

Why cassava? According to Dave Vander Griend, CEO of ICM, “If we’re asking all these farmers to grow cassava we need to make sure we can manage the supply they produce.”

CleanStar Mozambique wants farmers to grow the cassava using a permaculture style arrangement: for each hectare one strip should be cassava, one legumes and one cereals like maize. The whole hectare is then surrounded by agroforest to reduce water runoff and increase shade (which reduces the need for irrigation). Why would anyone go along with this request? These plants grow at different rates, which means farmers will have crops to sell all year round, as well as some food based products in addition to the cash crop. Despite being a popular food product, cassava is not very nutritionally dense.

30 local media representatives attended the opening as well as Mozambique’s Federal Minister of Agriculture, José Pacheco.

travel and accommodations to Mozambique provided by Novozymes
image credit: Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton

Jen is editor in chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and lives in Oakland with her husband and normally happy baby. 
Hit her up at on twitter @jenboynton to discuss diapering strategies or sustainability reporting methodology.