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 Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

11 responses

  1. Looks like they made a massive gas find off the coast…. anyone talking about the impact on the potential for the casava?

    1. Interesting! The targeted market for these stoves uses charcoal, so I don’t think the LPG prices are a bit issue. Interestingly, LPG has a bad reputation here for being dangerous, i.e. exploding and is generally only used by the wealthiest residents. 

  2. ethanol biofuels are not a sustainable venture. it is a very light-weight and high-octane filler used to increase the volume of traditional fuel sales; in fact resulting in poorer MPG. a double-stroke increase in revenue from the oil company’s stance (maybe triple when considering that most of the production cycle of ethanol biofuel is heavly subsidized by one state or another).

    africa doesn’t have the resources it needs to FEED its own people. where are the resources coming from to produce biomass for fuel, as opposed to biomass for human nutrition?

    ethanol is bad news for anyone who isn’t in the business of selling it.

    biodiesel, however, produced from the waste byproducts of consumption are much more suatinable.

      1. I thought so to, but no. The production is similar (perhaps identical) but in the case of the ethanol the distilling just keeps happening to get pure alcohol, whereas with the beer the process stops at a lower alcohol content. 

    1. Thanks for your comments! The ethanol isn’t being used to power vehicles or engines of any kind, so your points about the poor MPG aren’t really relevant here.- We’re talking about powering cookstoves here and the efficiency is 60% as opposed to the 10% efficiency of the most commonly used charcoal stoves. 

      The project was only approved because the fuel is not displacing food. Right now, thousands of acres of land are sitting idle in Mozambique because there is no market for people to sell crops if they grow them. The project incentivizes farmers to grow cassava for sale for ethanol alongside two food products which have much higher nutritional content then cassava. 

  3. Interesting! Africa has plenty of food–the problem there isn’t supply, it’s distribution, corruption and inefficiency. In fact, Middle Eastern states and China are buying up land for agricultural production. So if this is managed well, I think this venture can only be a good thing.

  4. Hi Jen, I’d be really interested to know what else Novozymes are doing in Mozambique – this looks like a good project, and one they’re very keen to publicise (hence why they paid for your travel and accommodation) but I assume this is the pro-poor veneer compared to the majority of their investments in Mozambique?

    1. Hi Pascoe, actually CleanStarMozambique is our first
      direct investment in Mozambique. But it is a very important one! The purpose of
      our investment is to develop and demonstrate the business model which Jen has
      described so well. We believe there is a strong for-profit case for replacing
      charcoal with an ethanol-based cooking fuel and at the same time deliver
      tremendous social and environmental returns. With our investment we want to
      prove that – and thereby build the case for scale-up in Mozambique and
      expansion around other cities in Sub-Saharan Africa that suffer from
      charcoal-dependency and high charcoal prices. So while it is our first investment
      in Mozambique, we believe it is a very scalable one.
      Let me know, if you have any other questions!
      Anders (Novozymes and CleanStarMozambique)

  5. I have heard that the company is about to shut down. They have already closed their Ethanol Production Plant and the downstream is wrapping up as well, may be they were not able to reach out to the people the way they planned.

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