South Africa: Biofuels In South Africa

Last Updated: 6 March 2014
Article by Andrew Gilder and Mduduzi Mamkeli

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2016

The use of biofuels1 as a renewable energy source presents the potential for numerous environmental, energy security and efficiency benefits to the South African economy. The biofuels industry also has potential as a key source of employment. In light of this potential, government has sought, over the past few years, to put in place a policy environment conducive to the development of a robust national biofuels industry. These attempts have been only partially successful. However, very recently the biofuels policy debate has been re-ignited by the release of the Draft Position Paper on the South African Biofuels Regulatory Framework (the "Position Paper"). This article traces the development of biofuels policy in the country and considers the implications of the Position Paper.

One of the first policy interventions related to biofuels was the White Paper on Renewable Energy, November 2003 ("Renewable Energy White Paper") which set a target of 10 000GWh of final energy production from renewable energy sources, by the year 2013. This target drove government renewables policy for most of the decade between 2003 and 2013, notwithstanding that the Renewable Energy White Paper was never put through the process required for the White Paper to become an Act.2 While the Renewable Energy White Paper indicated that biofuels made from biomass was among the renewable energy sources under consideration, in order for industry viability it was clear that biofuels policy needed to be developed at a much deeper level than is the case in the Renewable Energy White Paper. In particular, policy which made the biofuels industry an attractive investment opportunity was required especially in light of the strength of the industry's competitors, e.g., the crude oil industry which is characterised by a low cost of supply relative to the costs of establishing a biofuels industry.

In December 2005 the erstwhile Department of Minerals and Energy was directed by Cabinet to lead and co-ordinate the development of the Biofuels Industrial Strategy of South Africa ("Biofuels Strategy") through an inter-departmental Biofuels Task Team ("BTT"). The BTT subsequently developed the draft Biofuels Strategy, informed by a detailed feasibility study, which was approved by Cabinet in December 2006. The draft Biofuels Strategy made a very deliberate link between the renewable energy target and biofuels in that it proposed that up to 75% of the target might be achieved through the uptake of biofuels into the economy. The draft Biofuels Strategy underwent a public consultation process after which the Biofuels Strategy was revised and again approved by Cabinet in December 20073. Over time, the idea of biofuels as the major contributor to the renewable energy target fell away and it is worth noting that the 10 000GWh by 2013 target set in the White Paper on Renewable Energy was not achieved by the end of 2013 despite great progress in recent years towards renewable energy development.4

The Final Biofuels Strategy provides for a 2% (or 400 million litres per annum) penetration level of biofuels in the national liquid fuels supply - revised down from the 4.5% blending target that was proposed in the draft Biofuels Strategy. For the stated purposes of food security and environmental concern, the Final Biofuels Strategy proposes the following crops for the production of biofuels in South Africa:5

  • sugar cane and sugar beet in order to produce bioethanol; and
  • sunflower, canola and soya beans for purposes of producing biodiesel.

Despite the impetus provided by the Final Biofuels Strategy and great energy and investment from the private sector, the South African biofuels industry has remained nascent - possibly due to the persistence of the view that biofuels projects are unattractive due to the relatively low cost of crude oil. However, with a pending deadline on 1 October 2015 for the introduction of mandatory blending of biofuels with petroleum, the Minister of Energy has been prompted to publish the Position Paper in terms of the National Energy Act 34 of 2008. The Position Paper was published on 15 January 2014 for public comment, with a 10 February 2014 deadline for receipt of submissions by government, and is an attempt at fostering a regulatory environment that enables the commercial production of biofuels through the full and proper implementation of the Final Biofuels Strategy, including with financial support for the biofuels industry.

Among the tools for implementation of the Final Biofuels Strategy are the Regulations regarding the Mandatory Blending of Biofuels with Petrol and Diesel promulgated in terms of the Petroleum Products Act 120 of 1997 ("Mandatory Blending Regulations") and the Regulations regarding Petroleum Products Manufacturing Licenses under the Petroleum Products Act 120 of 1997 ("Manufacturing Licences Regulations"). As alluded to above, the Mandatory Blending Regulations commence on 1 October 2015 and will require that all licensed petroleum manufacturers purchase biofuels exclusively from licensed biofuels manufacturers, so long as the volumes can be blended with the petroleum manufacturer's petroleum within the minimum concentration of 5% volume per volume ("v/v") biodiesel blending with diesel, and between 2% v/v and 10% v/v of bioethanol to petrol.

According to the Position Paper, a regulatory framework for the establishment of a financial support programme for biofuels manufacturers will be achieved through a general fuel levy earmarked for the subsidisation of manufacturers of biofuels. The levy is currently proposed to be between 4.5 cents per litre and 5.6 cents per litre for the 20 years commencing on 1 October 2015 in order to provide a firm 15% return on investment for biofuels manufacturers.


1. Biofuels are sourced from biomass (such as crops) in order to generate electricity and power and to produce liquid fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel.

2. Using a White Paper as a persuasive document driving policy development is fairly common practice within government. For example, the current development of climate change policy is prompted by the White Paper entitled the National Climate Change Response Policy ("NCCRP"),November 2011. Whether this is ever transformed into a climate change Act is debateable. However, it is very clear from a range of government actions (from the development of Carbon Capture and Storage technology to the mooted carbon tax) that the NCCRP is the touchstone for these developments.

3. For purposes of clarity and simplicity, the Biofuels Strategy approved by Cabinet in December 2007, after the public consultation process, will be referred to as the "Final Biofuels Strategy".

4. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the successes and perceived failures of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme ("REIPPPP"). However, the REIPPP is the primary driver of renewable energy development in South Africa.

5. Eligible crops exclude maize - the national staple; and, jatropha - an alien to South Africa with a very high calorific value of seed oil but which produces a toxic seedcake remnant after having been used for biofuels production.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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