Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Gasahol: E-85
(Aired 29 August 2001)

    In recent times one of our biggest national problems has been  "what do we do with the Demerara sugar Estates" we can't close them as that would create a huge unemployment problem in the Demerara Region, we can no longer afford to run them as they are, since in a very short time they will be a drain on the national treasury.

    Globally sugar is a lot of trouble, with not much of a future for countries like Guyana, even now without the EC preferential sugar price we would have to subsidise the sugar industry by something like 16 million US dollars a year, after much thought and indeed prompting by people like Mr. Ravi Dev who has been asking me to make a suggestion, I have come to the conclusion that we can't do anything with them other than grow sugar cane, I note with some concern that one of our Luminaries in the Ministry of agriculture is quoted as saying "that we will grow other things in the Demerara estates" this is patent nonsense and not even worthy of comment much less analysis, Burnham tried it and the Guysuco other Crops division, was a disaster.

      So I kept asking myself "can we do anything other than make SUGAR from sugar cane". The answer may be YES, recent technology makes it possible to fuel cars with a mixture of 85% Ethyl alcohol [ethanol] and 15% Gasoline this mixture is called E-85, so ethanol would not only be possible as a fuel for cars but most of the major US car manufacturers are now producing cars that can use E85. Previously only a mix of 85% gasoline and 15 % alcohol was possible.

    We import about 25 MILLION Gallons of gasoline annually to Fuel our vehicles, that requires a foreign exchange of 22 million US dollars annually, incidentally that translates to .89 cents US dollars per Gallon landed here in Guyana, that's 170 Guyana Dollars, this information was provided by the Guyana Energy Authority and is based on the price for gasoline purchased for the first 6 months this year, why it ends us at almost 347G dollars per gallon at the pump is anyone's guess, perhaps The Evening News would like to look into that for us.

   The Demerara estates produce about 120,000 tons of sugar per year so we can make 15-20 million gallons of fuel grade alcohol per year from them.

The Demerara Sugar Estates produce sugar at a cost of around 21 US cents per pound, but the world market price is around 9 to 11 cents per pound, so it works out like this, if we did not have the EC preferential price, it would cost us $36 million to produce this 120,000 tons of sugar in the Demerara region and when we sell it, we would only get 20-22 Million US a loss of 16 million US dollars per year.

   The question is how economically can we produce this fuel grade alcohol from sugar cane in the Demerara Region? I have now brought this investigation to the stage where only a consultant can tell us.

   But I think that it is necessary, it is possible, and can be very rewarding financially to this country. We must be very careful however not to embark on a venture which can be uneconomical to the nation just to keep the Demerara estates open. We must agree on that in advance.

   So, the first question that must be answered is "how much will this fuel grade alcohol cost to produce? And how much does it cost to convert our vehicles to use it?" the Brazilians have been doing it for some time, nearly 25 years. Very few cars in Brazil run on pure gasoline today and they have also started to use the E 85 mixture they also have conversion kits for almost all cars. For those who are interested in these matters formula one racing cars run on this same Ethanol/gasoline mixture. It is a very efficient, very clean burn fuel.

   In the US they are producing alcohol from corn but it is expensive, only a 71% return on power used to produce the alcohol this means that of every gallon of fossil fuel used to produce the alcohol from corn, you only get back 71% i.e. you use more energy producing the thing than you get back when you burn it in your car, but this is production from corn not cane juice, there is a huge difference.

   In Guyana, we do not use much fuel in the reaping and transportation of the cane to the factory, the hand cutting labour and punt system guarantees that, and the bagasse supplies the power to distil the alcohol, no fossil fuels used there, the American figures therefore mean nothing, so an independent study should be done for the Demerara Sugar Estates.

   There are several international companies who can do this feasibility study, the Canadian company CHEMCORP for example and the American company Murtaugh and Associates in Virginia would be the best ones to do it, their emails to me says that they can do a very preliminary feasibility for a very reasonable amount. We can even ask our Brazilian neighbours to help.

    Mill the cane and distil the fermented juice to produce alcohol, forget sugar. We will then produce excess bagasse, a lot of it, so things like chip board, Building blocks from compressed bagasse become possible, because the energy needed to distil the juice, once fermented, is not nearly as much as boiling the sugar cane juice to a concentration where the crystals form, that requires a huge amount of energy.

    Additionally essentially sugar production parts from Demerara sugar factories can then be taken to the Berbice estates, to enhance their performance and to expand their production if possible.

   The international community likes this sort of thing [not using fossil fuels] and would be willing to fund the investigation and the conversion of the estates to do it, if feasible.

   And if feasible not one job will be lost in the Demerara region and we could save Millions of US in not having to buy gasoline, not to mention the 16 million per year we ultimately are going to have to subsidise the Demerara estates with money from the national purse.

   It is bold and daring I know that, but what other choice do we have? The biggest problem is how to convert existing vehicles to use the E85 but once converted, and conversion kits are readily available, the alcohol burns cleaner and the engines last longer and this new industry will not be subject to the vagaries of the world market price for sugar or the world market price for Gasoline. The American alcohol industry is also growing daily, they are producing the alcohol for the cars at huge government subsidies to clean up the atmosphere, so even if we do not use the alcohol here we would be able to sell it to the US, but most importantly, it, unlike the local sugar industry, would have a future, and so would we

   I researched and wrote this commentary before I left for holiday in the US in June, the sheer concept of it was far fetched even to me, but a few nights ago I met the new Brazilian Ambassador, a very interesting man is our new Brazilian ambassador, after speaking to him, it is not far fetched at all.