Namibia: Biofuel option for cement-maker


Updated Tue, 15 Jul 2014 11:08:00 GMT

Namibia's Ohorongo Cement plant has come up with an environment-friendly innovative solution with a competitive edge: Blackthorn.

Blackthorn can grow to as high as seven meters (23 feet) and forms impenetrable thickets. It won't let any other species grow in the vicinity, much to the chagrin of local famers.

It is now harvested turning the bush into wood chips used for fuel by Ohorongo Cement, Namibia's only cement manufacturer, giving it a potential edge over some of its competitors on the world market.

Biofuel accounts for 30 per cent of Ohorongo's energy needs; eventually the company wants to raise this figure to 80 per cent.

"In the long term, we will be very competitive," said manager Gerhard Hirth. Not having to rely on coal and oil imports, the company was able to keep energy costs down while making a positive contribution to the environment.

"We have the technology and the raw materials to produce high quality cement. We manufacture it economically with staff we have trained ourselves who are really very good workers," he said.

Hirth, a German national, comes from Ulm. The family firm Schwenk Zement KG has been in the cement business for the last 160 years. "Nonetheless," he said, "Africa was new - and different."

Hirth has invested USD 340 million in Namibia. As well as deploying modern technology, he also chose a logistically favorable location from which his high quality building material can be freighted to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The plant produces 600,000 tonnes annually, of which 500,000 is destined for the Namibian market. The rest is exported. Namibia is only a small cement producer, neighbouring South Africa is a much bigger player turning out 16.5 million tonnes a year.