Kenyan biofuel production project receives international funding

Sugar_beet_mountainA US$150 million biofuel production facility is to be set up in western Kenya to produce ethanol from tropical sugar beet

Funded by investors from the UK, China and Qatar, the Western Bio-fuel Company (WEBCO) will use ethanol derived from sugar beet to blend with petrol for use in the transport sector.

The production facility will be the first of its kind constructed in the East Africa region.

Tropical sugar beet is a tuber with a high sugar content of 18 per cent compared to 12 per cent in sugar cane. Trials have already been successfully carried out in the region with yields of 70-100 tonnes of sugar beet obtained at the trial phase.

The crop takes six months to mature compared to 18 months for sugarcane, which has caused sugar companies in western Kenya that rely on sugar cane to voice their concerns that farmers may switch to the more lucrative sugar beet once the factory has been constructed.

“Areas under sugarcane have been gradually declining,” noted Nzoia Sugar Company public relations officer Joseph Kawa. “We worry that if farmers move to the new crop, we will have reduced land under sugarcane.”

African countries have been slowly moving toward biofuel production using sugar beet and sorghum as raw materials.

In South Africa, the $258.5 million Sugar Beet RSA ethanol facility could start production as soon as 2014 with an annual production of 200 million litres.

Mwangi Mumero

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