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Biodiesel and Africa

Posted by Frank Williams 
Biodiesel and Africa
January 06, 2006 05:19PM

We have a challenge for some of you who might be interested in getting involved in something a little different for sharing your knowledge. Forgive me in advance if it gets a little long winded - the subject takes some explaining - and I always get carried away!

The simple bit for a start - we need a team of 50 or so experienced engineers and thinkers who are prepared to become part of a networked "virtual office" - that simply means sitting at home with a computer and spending a few hours a week disseminating some of that experience, for a little pay, through a networked design/education institute in Africa.

You may recall I have touched briefly before - and sometimes not so briefly - on the subject of Biodiesel and one way of sourcing the quantities that a truly green Europe will demand - and is demanding. Sweden is actually trying for "fossil fuel free" in the next decade - that is 5 million tonnes of light fuel oil to be replaced by local farmers or any other source of renewable fuel.

If all Swedens Biodiesel all came from local rapeseed or similar - this amount would require 60,000 square kilometers of prime Swedish croplands - 15% of Swedens land area - one of the least population dense countries in Europe. On top of that would be a need for an energy intensive seasonal planting and harvesting. Locals are only now starting to do this arithmetic and a stunned silence it is producing. This arithmetic also shows it will not be a cheap fuel and we don't actually have that much farmland.

But - if all were supplied by suitable dryland plantations of Jatropha hedge plant or hemp - that would require 400 plantations - some 20,000 square kilometers of land - one 5000 Hectare plantation in a semi arid zone can produce around 250 Barrels per day of vehicle ready diesel - along with 7 tonnes of glycerine and 60 tonnes of seedcake - fuel for foundries, steam vehicles, steam electric generation and fertiliser.

In the next few years oil companies and others will wake up to this - and Africa will be exploited yet again as companies try and set up such plantations with western supplied equipment and western retained knowledge. Indeed our own initial look at possible aid funding etc has quickly uncovered the fact most is "tied" to ensure this will happen. Not good for Africa - and not good for the final price of the fuel for us.

Most people and agencies familiar with Sub Saharan Africa are clear that the real solution for their poverty/famine trap lies in education and commerce. Most are also aware that "free trade" will not do it while Africa produces little to trade.

We believe the above upcoming fuel demand does present a real opportunity for some part of these two components to be provided - if it can be structured properly. The plantation equipment demand will be significant - and there exists no insurmountable reason it cannot be homegrown equipment that fits the economy and needs of the region with little or no external input. In short - it is our belief that a sort of “mini industrial revolution” in Sub Saharan Africa is possible - one that is totally environmentally friendly and in fact contributes to cleaning up the wests industrial pollution.

We have some philanthropic backing - enough to get started - more we will find. We have the willing co-operation of one African government and their presently very poorly equipped technical institute. We have some experienced ex-industry engineers - age range from 35 to 75 and we have a few tradesmen to put on the ground there as Masters. We need more designers and engineers - enough to provide input to many individual projects - those ranging from steam tractors to batch refineries and ethanol distilleries - to steam power plants and irrigation pumps - and obviously much more.

Interestingly enough - the tradesmen - the guys on the ground who can handle the machine tools and the apprentices - are proving easy to find. Western industry has been dumping them for years while they try and save costs and get rid of their responsibility to train - older guys with a lot to give and nothing else to do. What are harder to find are the designers and thinkers - the guys who can work as a group and design that modern steam tractor or steam electric generating system - the ones who deal with the concepts upon which a cottage industry can be based.

We need skills that go right back to our own industrial revolution - foundries, machine shops, steam power and so-on right up to process control technologies. All supported by a modern CAD equipped design office, the internet and people like us - maybe that factor could make the difference.

This is not about new graduate engineers from the west getting involved with teaching villagers how to make Roman age rope pumps - and then publishing self congratulating papers. It's not about western companies making clockwork radios or laptops - and grabbing aid money to pay for them while publicly congratulating themselves for doing so.

It's about re-equipping technical schools with cheap old machine tools - computers and other equipment - about spending 5 years teaching young people who can just read and write to become journeymen - about setting up a lot of small industries and about supplying and supporting the first generation of designs until the industries become self improving. Its about cottage industry building electric generating plants so the waste from a plantation can power not just itself - but an entire town so people can use real computers under electric light. It's about standing back and watching a local ownership developing around something your knowledge helped create - and expecting nothing but some respect and perhaps a brief mention in the pages of history.

Any input - constructive - critical - is welcome. Obviously an open discussion among people like you who can visualise such a project and its needs would be very useful. Is it even possible? What are the problems - with culture and skills? What industries are needed? Are there even enough Western engineers available with an altruistic bent and the right experience? Is it worth the struggle against vested interests - African and Western?

Happy new year


"The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in the course of time as important as the petroleum and coal tar products of the present time"
Rudolph Diesel, 1912
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 07, 2006 12:35AM
Hello Frank,

Well you got my intrest. My concern would not be in how resourcefull or talented eager villiage people could be nor how organized something like this might start out. The real concern is those vested intrests that would "gratiously" extend their helping hand and more than volunteer to take over.

First would be the world banks with loans and conditions of privatization that almost gaurantee failure. Then come the big corporations, slave wages, land grabs, the byout of political leaders. Look how big oil controls the military in the Sudan. Next would be Foriegn equipment, high intensity fertilizers and destructive farming practices like here in the States. The land it'self would start to die, of course requiring more of the same chemicals that were killing it.

I know you are aware of that type of scene, it goes by the name of "fair trade", "WTO", "NAFTA" It is killing native cultures and people planet wide and impoverishing all it can, confiscating any exploitable resources from those too weak to defend themselves. Once these people have proven that they too have something worthwhile these dark forces of greed and violence will do their utmost to decend upon them as America is decending upon Iraq now. Agra-business with guns.

Hell Frank, with a little money and a stable enough country and eager people, getting people trained, starting an educational system that respects their culture and ways, and getting a crop out is the easy part. Defending it from outside greed or the betrayal of their own leaders to that greed is the snake that will bite.

Many of our large businesses have agents whose job it is to buy off leaders with bribes, threats, lies, whatever works. Contracts are signed giving up other peoples rights. Leaders are offed if they refuse to comply. Look at what the USA is trying to do to Chavez in Venesuala because he is trying to nationalize the oil. All Sadaam was doing was planing on going to the Euro instead of the Dollar as the currency to base oil upon. (Please I don't even want to hear from idiots who think we went there to free Iraq, what a joke)

Anyway I am of course not saying don't do it. It is a thing that should be done, a good thing. If I can be of use I'll help where I can. I am though giving the development of a modern steam engine all I can. Just saying to watch out from the get go. They'll try to get you from behind.

Not that I'm opinionated or anything. ----------- Bill G.

Nor the least bit pessimistic.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 07, 2006 04:43AM

I agree totally with most of your caveats. That is the principal reason all the equipment industries will be structured as small locally listed companies - and most will have "Momma Benz" type managers. Hard working, tough and virtually incorruptable women - they have long been the backbone of local trade. All technology transfer goes through technical institutes - again difficult for any monkey business.

Finance is a really good point - already we have seen "tied" institutional finance that almost guarantees what you warn about. Hence the focus on philanthropic support.

One advantage we have is the fact we are not looking ourselves for ownership and a return to foreign shareholders. That gives a very different playing field when dealing with structure and backers.

Rather we are relying on any success creating opportunities for us further down the track. That could be anything from distributing low cost product in Europe - to establishing a plant there to take older cars from Europe and rebuilding them as environmentally friendly steam vehicles to re-export back with significant labour cost advantages.

The plantation and land ownership is a little more complicated but we will shoot for similar structures.

One very interesting thing we have noticed that fits what you say - is that local corruption is almost directly proportional to the level of natural resources - the least corrupt are those countries that have no natural resources - so that is where we start. Then we can but hope any success becomes industrialisation - rather than an exploitable natural resource.


Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 07, 2006 11:18AM

One thing you mentioned that could be a saving grace is education. It is not only a technical education that will help people but also a political one. An education that will teach them to be wary, one which shows them what warning signs to look for, what some of the lies are.

Freedom is a hard thing to define at times and often gets confused with patriotism. Much of our basic freedoms in this country were taken at the get go and replaced with patriotic noise. Here it has become a basic right to and "freedom" to rip off as much and as many as possible and to exploit anything that isn't nailed down by the property rights of a bigger organization. This is the "freedom" our country exports.

Our people are becomming enslaved to large corporate intrests. Unions, the equalizer between working people and the corporations that were exploiting them have been undermined and rendered effectively useless. The great tool used to do this was the sabotage of our educational system. It was the "dumbing down of America" and it started with the Reagon administration. Education had become a commodity, the media a corporate ally.

Anyway, as I see it, to do these people any good everything will have to be locally owned, or communially. The farms will have to be set up by charter or law as separate locally owned entitys with no mergers allowed, 400 or more and protected as such by a government that has passed laws to that effect. (All ready they would be in trouble with the United States)

The people would need their own locally owned radio stations, local news and educational programs, plus knowing what's going on in the rest of the world, keeping up.

While it is true mostly that local corruption is proportional to the level of natural resources, outside hatred and manipulation can account for much. Since it's inception Haiti has, because it was founded by escaped slaves, been the focus of hatred and interference by the American government. This little country doesn't have a pot to pee in, yet it still recieves the worst America has to offer. We "export democracy", love that term, by kidnapping President Aristide the twice democratically elected president and replacing him with someone kind to the worst of our economic intrests.

Eight hundred bodies of Arestide supporters piled up in one evening in Port-Au-Prince, similar through out the weeks following Aresteads removal.

Is there any chance that the Swedish government and the government of the African country can form an alliance that would give the African country more of a voice in world affairs? Some way to yell for help?

This is an intreaging project Frank.

Best ---------- Bill G.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 08, 2006 04:11PM

A political education is not as important as one could believe from our vantage point in the west. The people of Africa are probably much more politically aware than you or I could claim to be. They are very aware that their own political heritage comes from the absolute and non-democratic power that their colonial masters put in place - and left as a legacy behind them when they "granted" independance not so long ago.

They are also quite aware that they do not have the technical - or advanced - education and the years of experience of industrial, commercial and farming management that is now almost bred into most of the developed west. The only real education the colonial powers left behind was that in the practice of beaurocracy and administration. In short - they were kept dumbed down by the colonial powers and exploited like hell - independance has not resulted in any significant industrial development that is not just further exploitation.

Sub Saharan Africa is 600 million people with 30 million television sets and a per capita income of about 70 cents a day. About half have radios though and about half are literate.

No sort of deal is possible - or even desirable - where a western government could form any alliance. That would merely create an opportunity for that countries industry to further exploit.

The 400 plantations for Swedens needs are just an indication of scale. If Africa produced Biodiesel at the possible one third the price of our local farmers - then Germany Britain and France would each use 10 or 20 times that amount. That is 20,000 plus plantations over the next 10 or 15 years - 1 million square kilometers over many countries - a huge demand for locally produced equipment and a lot of employment.

The question now is not whether the market is there - it is whether we can achieve a foundation in Africa for supplying it. To understand that we must understand Africa's position - and why it is in it. That is a fascinating subject - it would take about ten long posts to begin to cover it.

All we are trying to do is establish the required knowledge base on the ground there. The whole western biodiesel industry is presently so splintered and immature we believe we can develop a base there at about the same speed the west will figure it out.


Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 09, 2006 02:23AM

What you've said so far sounds good. Nothing wrong with ten long posts.

If the average per capita income is 70 cents a day, what is going to happen when a small percentage of the people say 3% start making a decent living. Will it push the rest further into poverty, making their income of further insignificance?

Throwing capitalism into a poverty striken mix without safegaurds can have disasterous effects. In tropical Africa rural people moving into and concentrating in the citys for economic reasons created a plague of malaria that is killing thousands, many of them children.

This would be another good reason for the farms being kept separate entitys, each with a local and unconcentrated population. Small villiages where the people share in the income of the farms, and a good proportion of the results are plowed back into the communitys. The farms need to be set up as a trust for the communitys otherwise it's the same big business where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, if that is possible.

Humans and the rest of life on this planet were meant to work co-operatively, that is what an eco-system is. This grand and beautiful ball we are all on would do very well if people kept that in mind. What you are planning here is a fine example of that co-operation. It is good to see it.

Do you think that the government of this African country would put themselves into the mix in such a way as to safegaurd the welfare of such a project and keep the greedy moneymongers out of it? Do they care about the people enough?

I would hate to see that common scene where the workers are still at starvation wages while rich landowners and factory owners are driving around in Mercedes with swarms of bodygaurds to keep them safe from the people.

Frank, I believe this project can work if it is set up correctly from the get go.

So OK ten lectures.

Thank You ---------- Bill G.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 09, 2006 09:30AM

The 70 cents is the per capita income across the region - the actual wages vary depending on the country. In Ghana a textile worker might get around a dollar a day. Next door Togo might be half that - other areas higher.

Interesting that Ghanas textile industry has been largely wiped out by Chinese imports - locals are screaming it is a result of lower Chinese wages - however China now pays around 2 dollars a day. Bit like American companies screaming about unfair Japanese competition a few years ago - at a time the direct cost of labour in Japan was higher than the US. That reason for that however is another subject.

A truly local owned industry generally does not push surrounding people further into poverty - it has quite the opposite effect - with usually about 2 indirect jobs rapidly created for every direct job. That is one of the tragedies of the "island economies" western companies create when a plant is built somewhere just to exploit cheap labour - all equipment is imported and knowledge jealously guarded - little development takes place around them.

That is one of the reasons we are focusing heavily on manufacturing local equipment inefficiently and allowing for incremental improvement - rather than just going for cheap "Chinese" hardware - that just results in development in the country of supply and an island economy in the country of use. An economist would say that is arbitrage or whatever - and everybody wins. That is not terribly relevant when we are trying to introduce a fundamental knowledge and skill that requires learning an understanding of all the component parts. It is something that will almost certainly happen later - in what form the future will dictate.

It is however not sensible to pay too much more than the average wage in a country - to pay what the company may be able to afford can have a devastating effect on the local social structure. That I have seen many years ago - in an Asian country where a fair minded foreign owner of a factory doubled his staff wages from 1 dollar to 2 dollars a day. Caused several deaths and a hell of an unrest locally. The low labour costs should be used to make cheaper fuel - an ownership structure that distributes profits fairly through the community would be better - but even that can skew things - frankly a high tax feeding back into infrastructure would be the best.

Think though of the scale 10 or 15 years down the track. Each plantation could employ up to 2000 people - at 2 dollars a day that is a direct labour cost of 16 dollars a barrel - add the spin off labour and you are up to 48 dollars a barrel - subtract a few dollars for the gains from co-product - add the capital cost recovery on local built road plantation equipment and road tankers - add a fair profit and we are talking a landed cost in Europe of 50 or 60 dollars a barrel - 38 cents a liter - about one quarter the pump price of diesel in Europe. Finished pump ready fuel - not crude oil. Growth from that leading to our estimated 20 000 plantations is 40 million direct jobs and another 80 million indirect - and a 50% increase in the per capita income of the entire area. Add the realistic improvements to efficiency and wages one could expect over that time - and the economic impact could be quite significant.

Consider also developments in organic chemistry - "metathesis methods in organic chemistry" are right now the subject of Nobel prizes and self congratulation. In the future they allow an almost totally green industry - vegetable oils as feedstock for product and process presently dependent on fossil sources. A long time before western industry reacts - an opportunity for an entreprenuer to perhaps make plastic bowls for the western market in Africa. Labour as cheap as China - but from a green feedstock and molded on machines powered by electricity generated from the burning of green fuel. Throw in fair working conditions and no western housewife would consider any alternative. These are the sort of spin offs that could happen - if the knowledge can be introduced and left to develop.

Interesting your comment on co-operation and eco-system. That is what Africa was about before colonialism - and one of the basic reasons their enforced "civilizing" has not resulted in economic development as we understand it. Lets get back to Africa and why - before I get too carried away here on what could happen in a distant future I hope I may be around to see.

The standard diagnosis is that Africa is suffering from a governance crisis. There are highly visible examples of profoundly poor governance, for example in Zimbabwe. Widespread war and violence in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan and so-on.

The impression of a continent wide governance crisis is understandable.Yet it is fundamentally wrong. Many parts of Africa are well governed even though stuck in poverty. Governance is a problem, but Africa’s development challenges run much deeper. As said before - there are 600 plus million people in Sub Saharan Africa - with an average per capita income of around 70 cents a day - and this region actually has a negative growth in income per capita - the only region in the world to do so. The real problem for Africa is that of a poverty trap - just as disadvantaged individuals and groups in the west can find themselves trapped in a situation - here we have a whole continent that is in a trap they cannot get out of. They are literally too poor to achieve any level of economic growth. An economist would point to low national savings rates among other things - but this is not a factor which could be offset by investment of foriegn capital - then you would have to deal with other factors - poor infrastucture and weak human capital.

That view actually came from a very respected Columbia University economist who finally realised governence was a result of the problem - not the cause. Not that it makes any difference - the World Bank and others have their views and their demands - western aid is tied to ensure any technology transfer cannot happen - developed world companies are only interested in exploitation and market access - western politicians respond only in as much as they find it politically necessary for their own survival.

The example of Zimbabwe is a good one - even if the country is not a direct part of our own plans. Colonialism and (the then) modern western thought regarded their cultural systems as backward, superstitious and inimical to rapid economic growth. It introduced laws which dealt a devastating blow to the eco-friendly culture which governed the day-to-day activities of indigenous people. Through the use of force, white settlers appropriated large tracts of rich land and forced the majority of African people into the most denuded animal-free areas they called reserves. In a bid to clear land for cultivation, many animals were shot and many forests and trees were ploughed under. Sound familiar?

White settlers and rulers did actually make Zimbabwe into a fairly rich nation - the indigenous peoples actually got a basic education and some economic stability - all the real wealth though remained in the hands of the white farmers who generated it and - naturally enough because they had the skill - kept the technology. After independance and years of negotiation and standoff - where the farmers grimly hung onto what there forefathers had appropriated - the natives actually grabbed it back and shared it out. A real lose lose deal - nobody had the foggiest idea of how to run such agro industry - how to integrate its successful functioning into the culture they understood. How to run a billion dollar export business.

They had been taught to become teachers and doctors and nurses and administrators and servants. It was the agro-industrial base of their economy that was dominated by the white farmers. So now we have people who are actually capable of running and governing themselves - without the skill to run the economic platform which they needed - and no way of going back to their eco friendly co-operative past. Their knowledge resource was gone.

Are you surprised their leader is now an unbalanced man blaming the west for everything bad? surprised the country has degenerated into poverty and a corrupt elite? He is actually right - the west did screw Zimbabwe - he just hasn't quite figured out how and why it happened - and they have no way of dealing with the result.

Do you think they should have stood back and allowed the rich white class to keep the land and keep the wealth - stayed themselves poor - but at least economically and politically stable? Should they have known what was involved in running a business that has always been there in their lifetimes - and looked easy?


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/09/2006 09:57AM by Frank Williams.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 10, 2006 11:46AM
Hello Frank,

Interesting stuff. The idea of a general governance problem for one or two countrys as the cause of their problems might wash. But not for a whole region. One does have to very much watch out for what becomes popular fury.

I am generally in favor of the nationalization of a nations natural resourses. That is something that belongs to everybody. For instance we will know that Iraq is free when the Americans are kicked out and the oil is nationalised to the benefit of all of Iraqs people. So I believe that Zimbabwe was correct in taking back the farms. The problem was in not knowing what they didn't know.

Business does generally look easy from the outside. Like a roadside vegetable stand, grow or get some stuff and sell it, what could be easier. Sure there are long hours and some work involved but we can do that and learn as we go along. Unfortuatly business isn't that easy, there are too many other things going on especially in trying to re-establish a once going concern.

Possiblely what Zimbabwe should have done was to hire outside business managers to restart the farms and train their people how to do it, using a gradual takeover plan instead of a rapid one. I am thinking that Asians would have worked best in this instance to get rid of the old white faces. That might instill more confidence in the people during the interm.

But I'm an inventor not a business man. I run my business like a vegetable stand. Anything more complicated and I would hire a manager.

Interesting that you mention that Zimbabwes leader is now an unbalanced man. That is then saying that he was not before. I have been thinking lately that a lot of revolutionary leaders actually start out with the best intrests of the people in mind, but get so frustrated and jaded once in power that they start turning into tyrants.

It is an unfortunate part of the human condition that those who are predisposed to lead are generally not good leaders. They are very good manipulators, however. And that those who would be good leaders are generally not interested in the job, and won't seek it.

Thanks fer listnin --------- Bill G.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 10, 2006 01:23PM

As usual - you are right on the button. Zimbabwes revolutionary leader was a teacher with enough education to understand they were being screwed by an elite - but not enough to consider practical options. The only solution seen by many such at that time was some form of Marxism - so I guess he is just further proof that an anti-capitalist anti-Colonial attitude that leads to embracing some sort of Marxist philosophy usually goes nowhere. He is not the first to prove that!

Now they are actually starting to focus on better education - it has sort of run down from just adequate to totally inadequate over the last years. Observers are actually looking at that as their leader sort of setting up an educated opposition to himself! Guess he knows it will take longer than he has got - so maybe he is just setting out to torpedo his successor.

Ghana on the other hand is a great country - twice the per capita income of the poor countries in the region - very well educated and a functioning democracy. Stll a lot of western debt though. I guess they never really had a rich ruling class so had no need for the Marxist stupidity that effected some others. They never really got caught in the skewed aid that came when Russia and the US were rushing around the region trying to counter each others influence. Army never amounted to much - I believe it is down now to around 5000 regulars - and weapons so old they don't actually work. Not much for a country of 20 million.

Education grew from one university and a few primary/secondary schools at independence - to 5 Universities - 20 technical institutes and many thousands of primary schools. 90% plus literacy and so on. They are targeting now a per capita income of 1000 dollars a year. About 30% live below the poverty line

They have good natural resource - gold - industrial diamonds - silver among others - not too much corruption. Some tiny light industries and some agricultural exports. (ignoring the fact they have a pretty fair export trade in cannabis). They are by our standards pretty poor - but they are probably the most hospitable and best educated people in the region.

Their universities actually do produce engineering graduates - overseas they do well - at home there isn't much to do except public utility type stuff - so they never really get that edge of industrial experience.

One way to try and figure out the industrial potential in a country is to see who is trying to develop what - the level they are working at and what sort of govt. support and reactions they are getting. The following are a few lines from a Ghanian news organisation that tells a lot;

Accra (Gh) 10 November 2005 - "Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday descended on some University dons who are only interested in wearing academic gowns and parading themselves as academicians but have nothing to their credit and achievement by way of scientific and technological contribution.

They also lambasted some men of God who are also interested in wearing long pastoral dresses and who pride themselves with titles without coming out with programmes and projects that can see to the material needs of their flock. Contributing to a statement made by Mr S.K. Boafo, Ashanti Regional Minister and Member of Parliament (MP) for Subin congratulating the technological exploits of Apostle Kwadwo Sarfo Kantanka, Founder of Christ Reformed Church, the MP for Jomoro, Mr Lee Ocran said no nation can develop if it relies solely on second hand machinery.

He said the time had come for university dons to change their way of doing things and behave like Apostle Kwadwo Sarfo and to desist from always wearing gowns to pride themselves over their academic achievements. The Jomoro MP lamented that it was very pathetic to learn that Ghana imports bolts and nuts from overseas, things he said could easily have been manufactured in the country."

OK.....so one must ask - what is behind that? Well.. it seems this pastor is a bit of a self taught engineer - with the co-operation, and I don't doubt financial support, of his flock and perhaps a Ghanian diaspora - he has set out to create some industrialisation leading to jobs for his congregation. The church has even bought a 150 acres where they can establish an industrial park. So far so good - and lots of publicity. Then he employs some shiny new graduate engineers from the local university and the rather naive fellow then discovers they are not terribly good at hands on stuff. Not unique to Ghana as we all know - but not many places there for them to get that several years of experience all graduates need.

Says as much to the local press - they roar into print with this - and describe the Right Reverent as an inventor let down by below standard graduates. University roars into print saying his inventions are ridiculous - all been done before - beside which graduates need hands on experience.

Seems one development was a concrete block making machine and it seems he had actually said Ghana was actually advanced enough to go as far as helicopters or suchlike - if they tried. Obviously neither were inventions - Rev rather weakly points out he never described them as inventions. University said what they really meant was the press were ridiculous for describing him as an inventor then - so I guess the University lost there and then.

Government people then said - since financial support for such projects is not available - perhaps the University could consider an honorary degree. The Dean is probably still apoplectic.

Whatever else - it becomes fairly easy to get a grasp on the state of development and industry and the prevailing attitudes from reading such news. Ghana I also know - and this kind of fits well!

Next door in Togo we have quite a different situation - people are poorer - they have just lost the "one party democracy" ruler they have had for 30 something years - he has been succeeded by his son. The military are bigger and quite well equipped, thanks to the French, and fiercly loyal to the President. In spite of some democratic demonstrations - usually controlled by the army with some pain - surprisingly little when considering circumstances - the place is quite stable.

Few resources - but the major seaport in the area feeding their landlocked neighbours. They were severely affected by sanctions imposed by the European Union after some unrest was put down a few years ago.
The President had always said it was a difficult balancing act to keep the peace and allow democratic development when they were so poor - and the EU sanctions did not help one bit. In that I actually do believe him. The new president is somewhat better educated and travelled - he has an MBA from the US somewhere - they have few natural resources and he knows industrial development is necessary - but in spite of a reasonably well educated population - they actually have no starting point.

So there are two extremes in the area - and one in the middle. All others are somehere in between - all are poor - many are torn apart by war and tensions - and generally, over the last few decades, their ability to feed themselves has been diminished.

China is actually showing up in the region now - some infrastructure contracts and they are building some textile plants would you believe. The EU - probably in response to their corporate masters greedy for access to the African market - have a trade deal with some of Sub Saharan Africa - I guess made secure in the knowledge Africa had little to sell. China seems to have discovered African labour is cheaper even than their own - so they are gaily building plants - and access roads to them - in order to bypass the recently agreed limits on their own exports to the EU. Fantastic stuff - sometimes I just love the way things develop in a completely different direction to that intended.

Anyway - I will not bore you with more about Africa - that gives some idea of the environment and the problems. Our starting point!

I have for many years been involved in industry - helping fix factories - helping close factories - and even starting a few from the remnants of some closed. Always in countries where there was at least some industrialisation and infrastructure. This promises to be the most fun. Obviously no way we can race in and build hundreds of cottage industries and thousands of plantation. But we will have a damn good try at transferring enough knowledge and skill for some sort of local Biodiesel industry to start - and hopefully get to a critical mass.


Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 10, 2006 08:42PM

One of the things I have noticed is that the access to energy is as important in a countrys ecomomy as anything else. Perhaps the effects of low cost home produced fuel to run the factories and move people and goods might kick start an economy more than just producing fuel for sale alone. Togo and Ghana both have access to the ocean.

A possible advantage for Togo is that much of the population still have their indigionous religion. This might keep them closer to the land and make better farmers less eager to use chemicals on everything. There could be a tendency to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to boost crop yeilds for some almighty important quarterly profit. I am thinking of the cotton industry here.

I was under the impression that much of the west coast of Africa, even though on the ocean has little in the way of ports for freighters. True or not?

Marxist I am not. I do believe in collectivism on a local scale to get something accomplished that can't get done otherwise, like building a small dam or housing, education and such. Back in the earlier days of this country that was done. My father donated two weeks of labor during the summer to the county to help get a road built.

The big problem the world is facing now is the heavy concentration of capital. Small businesses give way or are pushed aside to large corporations. These get acquired by mergers into still larger corporations untill the multinationals are formed. Many of these corporations are indeed larger than small countrys. Next government leaders are corrupted by big money and influence and the very people they were supposed to protect, their own people, become subjects of the corporations. America is becomming this way and if not stopped will try to take the world with it. I'm betting they will be stopped.

Graduates without hands on experience are pretty much the same anywhere. Intellectual data only becomes real through real world use. At least in engineering anyway. The thing is that the hands on doesn't neccessarily have to directly relate to the field of study. Much is absorbed just by doing things similar like fixing a car or working construction. It is the sense of reality that has to be developed in addition to the book knowlege. Practicalness.

Frank this is a good path. ----------- Bill G.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 13, 2006 05:22AM

I certainly agree with that point - energy available from the plantation co-product could make a significant difference - all sorts of possibilities for little industries. Irrigation seems a primary requirement - and seedcake from the oil extraction should make a pretty good fertilizer.

Togo is in fact the best port in the area - quite well equipped and handles most frieght to and from the landlocked countries around it. Ghanas port facilities aren't so good.

Collectivism is kind of natural there - so may be a way of making a plantation structure work. Unfortunately - as you point out - most countries there - democratic or otherwise - have not yet really developed the governance mechanisms that prevent people in a position of power from abusing that position when they see opportunity for themselves. Not that we can say some western democracies are terribly good at that either.

Against that the collective land ownership and chieftancy system seems still pretty strong - where chiefs do generally care about their people. Not something we really know too much about yet - but at the end of the day - as long as it works the plantation structure doesn't really matter - and is certainly not something we could expect to dictate. The structure of the knowledge base and the equipment manufacture we will dictate - within limits set by the conditions there.

The subject of large companies and multinationals - and how they grow and expand is in itself a fascinating one. I don't know that it is all negative though. Negative effects from a collective incompetence - or outright greed - do tend to be limited to a small number of large companies - seems to be predominant in the agricultural and foodstuffs, energy and perhaps medicine business. Sad perhaps it is in the area of such basic needs. Sometimes the Socialist in me wonders if the best thing for public utility management is still not the old fashioned approach.

Usually manufacturing or producer companies are not so bad - and that is where the real wealth comes from. With greedy shareholders and financial management focused only on shareholder return - they invariably wind up self destructing anyway. Overall I guess it is a basic greed and the freedom that drives the system - and if you compare economic stability and well being of people generally - I think perhaps it is the best system - as long as there are some rules governing behaviour.

Against that I find it interesting that the best performing and fastest growing of almost all large producer companies were not actually started with the specific intention of making money. The performance usually levels off - or heads down in the long term - when the short term shareholder return becomes the only basis for decisions.

Published here a few days ago that Erikssons had actually bought the English Marconi company - I guess mostly for the name because there is not much else left - shareholders voted to accept an offer that was a tiny fraction of its value just a few years ago. Very long tradition had that company - started by Marconi - grew to the English General Electric Company and up until a few years ago was a solid dependable company with several billion pounds in the bank. Shareholders wanted that money used to give a better return - so out went the old management in came the new. Went back to the Marconi name - sold all the military equipment, instrument and aerospace operations - took the return from that, and what they had, and invested in European telecoms just a few months before the growth "leveled off". Lost all the company's cash - had nothing to fall back on - paid themselves the huge bonuses agreed earlier and quit for safer pastures.

Tough on the original shareholders but British Aerospace - who bought the real bits of the company - are doing well so it is really just the name and the shareholders that changed. Seems that Hewlett Packard have been down that path - I hope they survive - I have always liked that company and its philosophy - right up until they started selling of their own core strengths and focused on the high profile "look at us being stupid" approach.

More basic problems we have to understand - like your point on big money corruption - in Nigeria right now it seems some 200+ dollar a day British oil company engineers have been taken hostage. Problem is the local workers on the offshore platforms are paid 200 dollars a month and haven't been paid for 3 months. They are not actually employed by the oil company - they are employed by some local manpower firms that are owned by Nigerian politicians - either the oil companies are not paying their bills - or the local companies management leaves a bit to be desired.

Anyway - enough of my armchair philosophy. We now have co-operation from a couple of countries - and we are getting past that point where people are wondering too much about our motives. We will only be involved directly in one or two plantations - as pilot operations and maybe to supply fuel for our own green rental/taxi project here. Our real involvement is in the industrial development that will make plantation equipment.

The first project we will set up on our soon to be completed virtual office is a glycerine or seedcake fired steam generator that can be built in several different sizes and can power a stationary engine - which is the next bit. Those will be the first learning projects for the institute there. Anybody wanting to join that gets a CAD workstation and a high speed connection - plus a reasonable hourly rate for any time put in.


Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 14, 2006 02:39AM

A problem with any collective system or small buisiness starting out is that it has to interface with the big world, and that world is generally those big evil corporations we have been talking about. In some instances the best that can be hoped for is some form of unionization to strike a balance of power between the workers and management.

The best one can do is to try and shift the balance as best they can while still doing something. As for the big multinationals well they probably have to be dealt with. I now have my supertanker in the garage with a broken Sulzer engine, LOL so I guess we'll have to rent some space on one of theirs if it comes to that.

Anyway I'm not too sure exactly what I can do, as I am more of an inventor than engineer but am willing to see. I have the high speed conection and the computers, and can learn the CAD I believe. I guess one would download that from a server.

Anyway kick it around. I'm OK either way. One note is that it would be better for everyone concerned using it, that it works in Linux or BSD. These are free and very hardy systems that take little maintainance as far as monetary input. If everyone sets up from the get go with one of these then a lot of problems can be avoided, and money saved.

Thank You ---------- Bill G.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 15, 2006 04:59AM

Inventors or engineers or both in one - we need people who know something about what has been done and what can be done - what solutions could apply to what.

Tankers are one of the least of our "big business" problems - one of our partners comes from a small island here where several families own tankers and other ships - shipping is under discussion - so to speak.

Operating system I'll leave to the whizzkids who understand such things - CAD we will supply, along with help learning it - scanned pen and ink works for us too. Voice and video conferencing is another technique I think could be fun.

Our "Virtual office" manager starts in a few weeks - Canadian fellow who worked with us before on a development project - guess this part will start moving soon after that.

Whether or not we can interface with the big world without too much hassle is - I guess - something we will find out pretty soon. Personally I don't think the existing big world corporations will have too much to do with this fuel future - there will be many new small ones trying this or something similar - frankly the more the better. Then maybe we'll have another generation of them grow up from whoever is successful - but that is perhaps just the way it is.

Whatever - could be fun watching this develop - or fail - so welcome aboard.


Re: Biodiesel and Africa
January 15, 2006 05:13PM
Thanks Frank, It sounds like it will be fun.

I'm not too worried about what the comming generation of businesses will be like. The world as I see it anyway is changing fast.

Global warming is now a certified fact. There is no more controversy other than if the conservative press will print it. We are loosing many species of life per year due to the effects of warming, pollution and elimination of habitat. There is a large threat to the flow of the Gulf Stream as more and more polar and glacial ice melt and enter the ocean.

The dynamic of that is that the cold fresh water lays on the surface and is the same density as the warm salt water from the gulf stream so the stream is slowed down or diverted or stopped. This could mean extreamly cold winters and inclemant weather for most of Europe.

Another longer term factor I havn't heard much of being studied yet is the polar sink. I'm not sure if that is its official name. This is the dynamic that causes the deep ocean currents of cold water to flow toward the equatorial regions where it slowly warms and rises. This is the other end of the ocean energy pump.

The polar waters freeze at below zero C temperatures and ice forms. As it does so the water just under the ice gives up fresh water and becomes more saline very cold water and sinks to the bottom. This cold saltier and more dense water piles up on the seafloor and starts to flow outward toward deeper areas and toward the equatorial regions. As it does so it picks up minerals off the bottom and carrys them along. after a few years it gains enough heat to slowly rise toward the surface and mix with the surface waters. Where there is an upwelling of this water there is a bloom in sealife. It is also a big part of the oceans heat transfer mechanism.

Global warming means that this mechanism also is being affected. With both this and the Gulf Stream getting slowed down the other method of heat transport, air, will be working overtime. I am thinking that the weather will become much more violent and unpredictable than many might believe.

Humans are not insulated from the effects of this. Technology can only do so much and is not available to everyone. The parasites of the warmer regions are moving north. I didn't know this untill today that when white settlers first came to southern Minnesota there was malaria here. They filled in and drained the swamps and mostly got rid of it but it does show that even that is adaptable to northern climes.

There was an ecologist looking at all this. His conclusion was that as far as species die outs humans are somewhere in the middle of it all. We are numerous and clever but not all that tough. I think it's a possibility that mankind is going to get hit pretty hard in the comming years from the ill effects of global warming.

Anyway all an individual person can do is their best, a modern steam engine and some good veggie oil to run it on ---- gotta help.

Bill G.
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
August 07, 2007 07:07PM
Global warming is a pile of politically inspired crap. My degrees are from Carnegie Mellon and MIT so I may be just a little better able to judge than Sheryl Crowe. To date I see no one bringing the data to the table that will end this argument. To wit: show that there is a measurable change in the Earth's albedo, and that this change is the direct result of human activity. NO ONE has done this yet. Until this measurement is done, all the rest of this is hogwash. That is, by the way, how this happens. The other minor point I never see in the Climate Change press is the fact that Mars is also seeing climate change. How are we causing that?????

The climate changes all the time. Around 1000 AD, there were farming communities on the south shore of Greenland, and they were there for about 300 years. Around 1300 the climate was so cold the salt water marshes around the Netherlands would freeze solid. The world has been getting warmer since the Seventeenth Century. And just for a capper, all the carbon dioxide made by human activity in a recent year amounts to less than 10% of the naturally generated CO2. Volcanos, swamps, animals and a lot of other sources have been giving off CO2 long before we were here. Where do you thing all that limestone came from? Pinheads!!!
Re: Biodiesel and Africa
August 13, 2007 07:53AM
Agree it is difficult to dig the real figures from the crap - I have an open mind on the whole subject so I'll argue either way. Any assertions or claims either way can always be refuted by the other party - usually with more crap. There are enough believers about for us to do a little for some African development - and that is the real objective.

CO2 from Volcanoes? - difficult to judge - Gerlach (1991) estimated a total global release of 3-4 x 10E12 mol/yr from volcanoes - anthropogenic CO2 emissions overwhelm this estimate by at least 150 times. Volcanoes contribute 13% of the sulphur - man does the rest.

Seem to recall that swamps actually sink carbon - draining swamps releases it - vague recollection so I could stand corrected. Methane however is another matter - there we may be in more danger from cows farting.

Also I don't believe oil is fossil in origin or going to run out - there are other much more sensible mechanisms. Whether we use it faster than it regenerates is another unanswered question.

Carbon Dioxide is just part of our natural cycle - just as Calcium Carbonate is understood to be part of the dead shellfish cycle. This world wouldn't function very well without CO2 - question is only whether or not the extra "man made" is going to cock up the weather.

Mars?? - think about that - definitely a crap claim from one side. You mean the observed shrinkage of the Martian Southern Polar cap? A regional change only with many easily explained causes - solar radiation not being one of them. Start with "The alignment of obliquity and eccentricity due to precession......" - then go on to the fact it has a lowered mean temperature since the '70s when Viking first measured it - the mean temperature there has more to do with massive dust storms etc. etc. Frankly to claim global warming at all on Mars is equally inspired crap.

In any such beliefs - crap or not - there are opportunities. Especially for steam - and in our case for Africa.

Wanna see a modern 4 wheel drive center steered tractor? - made the old fashioned way from castings and powered by a neat little 60 HP vee twin and just a two speed transfer box and a dog clutch? Powered by almost any liquid fuel with a pellet fuel option? Cost to manufacture 1200 USD! Unbelievable? Lower direct labour cost than Henry Ford had when he built his tractor - starts with Iron ore and rubber trees - just as Ford also. Look up the price of his in 1940 production.

Wanna combined CNC mill and 6" centre height lathe? 18 pole electronically commutated 2 KW spindle motors? - Nema 34 steppers built in The Gambia costing 35 USD each - other parts spread over several countries. Maybe 5000 Dollars retail in the west - excluding the PC that plugs into a USB Port. First years local production will be totally absorbed by demands from technical institutes all over Africa that are really lucky if they have an old engine lathe.

Watch this space!

Too close to the jungles?

America specified a preference for slaves that came from the West African Iron Smelter regions - helped with its own industrialisation and helped screw theirs. When the Germans first colonised Togoland one recorded his thought that the hundreds of smelters already there and lighting up the night sky reminded him of his Ruhr homeland.

We now use African pattern makers - they learn the CNC mill fast - then hand finish to a standard that I can't match. 4 Dollars a day - 2 Dollars for the unskilled labour.

Now we are selecting young hopefuls for old fashioned trade training - Guess what - the percentage that demonstrate the necessary aptitude is exactly the same as the old fashioned western industries found - about one in 10 that can - and about 1 in 200 that have that little bit extra.


PS. Opportunity is everywhere. Europeans have now bought 300 000 little environmental mini cars and are rushing for more.

Quadracycles no less - tiny with maximum speed of 30 mph and max power of 4 KW - max unladen 350 Kg.

No licensing - no crash tests - no compliances other than with the basic specs. Just can't take them on a freeway. Bloody expensive they are and being bought by people who believe in global warming. Terrifying things - I wouldn't drive one - but then I drive a 350 Chevy Van or a SAAB diesel - Chevy goes bloody well on ethanol too.

But there is an opportunity for steam - just an engine with a diff - a 4 kW steam generator and condensor shouldn't be much of a challenge.

So who really cares if nobody can agree on global warming or not.


Re: Biodiesel and Africa
August 18, 2007 09:54AM
Here's a good read from Fremon Dyson, a well respected scientist, as to his views about global warming.

Also The Edge website also has a rebutal to Dysons article stating that Artic melting is now going on much faster than even the global warming crowd of scientists most dire warnings predicted. By 2040 the ice could be gone.

Time to save the Polar Bears folks. So if anyone has some extra space in their garage to put one in -----

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