THE Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) says the lower energy density of blended fuel is compensated for in the price.

BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA

This comes as Zimbabwe’s motorists have long complained that the current blending ratio of 20% is causing damage to motor vehicles.

“Zimbabwe has blended petrol with ethanol since colonial days and only stopped in 1992 due to a severe drought then. Blending was resumed in 2013 and has been implemented continuously since then,” Zera acting chief executive officer Eddington Mazambani told NewsDay Business in emailed responses.

“There has been a perception of lower fuel economy of E20 blend by some motorists. The fact is the slightly lower energy density of blended petrol is compensated for in the blend fuel price.”

Since earlier last year, motorists have complained that petrol which is being disbursed at the pump stations was finishing faster and at the same time damaging their vehicles leading many to believe that higher blending ratios were being used.

These fears were stoked by Zera, who announced on December 5, 2019 that the ethanol blending ratios had been reduced to 10% only to revert to 20%.

In May 2019, the ethanol blending ratio was 10%.

“The Minister of Energy and Power Development may from time to time grant an exception from blending unleaded petrol in exceptional circumstances. Some of these circumstances include production and availability of ethanol for blending,” Mazambani said.

“The Petroleum (Mandatory Blending of Anhydrous Ethanol with Unleaded Petrol) Regulations, 2013 (SI 147A) stipulates that from 31 March 2014, no fuel procurement licensee, wholesale licensee or retail licensee shall sell unleaded petrol to end users unless that petrol has been blended with 20% locally produced anhydrous ethanol being E20.”

In May 2019, the then Energy minister, Joram Gumbo stated that the National Oil Infrastructure Company (NOIC) did the blending of petrol before it was distributed to fuel operators.

At the time, he explained that when NOIC did its blending it alerted fuel companies on how much blending was being done. This would suggest that if blending ratios are being diluted it would be happening after the fuel is distributed to fuel operators.

According to a May 2009 paper by an American activist group called the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it found out that a blending ratio of E15 or 15% was particularly disastrous to old vehicles.

“Optimal vehicle performance, durability, and emissions require an effective match among engine design, vehicle emission controls and cleaner-burning fuels. Technological breakthroughs achieved in the last decade brought to the market a new generation of low-emission vehicles able to adapt to a wide-range of fuels. But older, legacy vehicles constitute a significant portion of the current fleet (in America at the time),” reads part of the paper.

“These legacy vehicles cannot adjust to operating conditions to accommodate a wide-range of fuels, which leaves their engines and emission systems at risk from ethanol fuel blends. Early catalyst burnout and material damage from incompatibility with ethanol fuels would likely lead to increased vehicle and non-road engine emissions and worsening air quality.”

With most of the estimated 1,4 million to 1,5 million vehicles in Zimbabwe being ex-Japanese cars due to their affordability, higher ethanol blending could damage most of these vehicles.

EWG specialises in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability.