skip to primary navigationskip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

 

Tom Berman

A Novel Bio-Ethanol Process - Appropriate For Mauritius?

Tom Berman

A Novel Bio-Ethanol Process - Appropriate For Mauritius?

The aim of this project is to assess the appropriateness of a novel bio-ethanol process for the island of Mauritius.  Biofuels are  seen as a solution to the twin pressures of climate change and fuel security.  However, wide scale implementation of different technologies and feedstock has resulted in unforeseen knock-on effects.  Those in support of biofuels highlight the potential reductions in greenhouse gases (GHG) and the ability of any country to produce transport fuels.  However, opponents point out the net increase in GHG if large areas of valuable land are converted to a feedstock mono-culture.  Research suggests that some biofuels require a greater amount of energy input than contained in the fuel itself.  The most damming condemnation, that the price of staple foods will increase due to increasing demand but decreased supply, leaving the poorest people facing food shortages.  The entire field is confused with conjecture and contradictory studies, based more on politics than on objective analysis.  Those who wish to support any area of biofuels are sure to find studies with a positive conclusion and vice versa.

A proper appreciation of the long term implications of the project requires a comprehensive analysis with environmental and ethical impacts given parity with economic factors.  A case-by-case approach is taken, looking in depth at the social, economic and environmental constraints and highlighting the compromises that need to occur.  This project investigates the use of a genetically modified bacteria, Bacillus Stearothermophilus, in a new ethanol production process and how this integrates into the context of Mauritius.

Five definitive sustainability criteria are utilised to answer the common problems faced by biofuel programmes, and if the process fails against any of these five it would be judged inappropriate.  The criteria focus on the environmental impacts of the industry and whether ethanol production can be economically viable.  The anticipated changes to the industry will introduce more sophisticated farming methods to the island greatly reducing the impact on the environment.  It is concluded that the process can be made economically viable by the use of molasses (currently a by-product of sugar production), the sugar cane itself, however, is still too valuable to turn directly into ethanol.  The main drawbacks of the process occur on the social side, with the inevitable compromise of increased revenue balanced against a reduction in the work force as a result of aggregation of small cane farms resulting in increased rural depopulation and urbanisation.