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[LILONGWE] The Malawi government is promoting imported ethanol-fuelled cars to wean the country off its fossil fuel dependency and better harness the country's ethanol industry.

Malawi's department of science and technology, in partnership with the privately owned Ethanol Company of Malawi (ETHCO), is promoting the import of Brazilian-made 'flex-fuel' vehicles, propelled by locally manufactured sugarcane ethanol.

The first vehicles were unveiled at a launch event in Blantyre, Malawi this month (4 October). The flex-fuel vehicle can use either 100 per cent ethanol fuel, petrol or any mixture of ethanol and petrol in a single tank.

They are part of Malawi's ongoing drive to find alternative and cheap sources of fuel to replace imported fossil fuels. According to the ministry of education, science and technology, Malawi imported around 80–90 million litres of petrol each year between 1995–2005. During the same period, the cost of petrol increased from $US13 million to $US36.1 million. 

Henry Mbedza, Malawi director of science and technology, said the government's endorsement of flex-fuel vehicles follows preliminary tests conducted last year under a five-year government research project on ethanol biofuels (See Ethanol driven vehicle under test in Malawi).

Daniel Liwimbi, general manager of ETHCO, said the company has taken a social responsibility by shouldering expenses attached to importation of the vehicle. They are also creating awareness of ethanol-fuelled vehicles through promotions in newspapers, on the radio and displaying the vehicle in major cities around Malawi.

At a recent stakeholder meeting (5 October) in Salima, central Malawi, car dealers and fuel retailers heard that Malawi has the capacity to satisfy local demand for ethanol, and were urged to import ethanol powered vehicles while the government research project continued.

Liwimbi says Malawi produces up to 18 million litres per season from May to December and with increased production from sugarcane molasses capacity could reach up to 30 million litres.

He said ethanol is currently underused in Malawi and ETHCO compensates by exporting the product to countries like Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania.

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