Does the co-harvesting of maize and cobs make business sense?
Since 2002, DalinYebo Trading and Development (“DalinYebo”) has been looking for supplies of corncobs to make biorenewable chemicals. In 2010, as part of the award winning Cobelec business plan, DalinYebo undertook a survey of the mielie farming locations throughout South Africa. It was determine that there is sufficient usable biomass (maize-cobs) availability as a basis for the roll-out of the GreenEnergyPark™ concepts. A GreenEnergyPark™ consists of simple and profitable applications for the transformation of biomass to energy (electricity) and/or chemicals.
How does one harvest corncobs?
With the drive for energy independence in the USA and the vast quantities of mielies (maize) planted, agricultural equipment manufacturers have been developing different ways to collect corncobs. The most outstanding collector was a system that has proven affordable and was developed by agricultural engineers who also are mielie farmers. Their on-the-go cob harvester is able to collect grain and corncobs in a single-pass with self-contained add-ons to the combine and the grain collection cart (see above picture). This system is easily adapted to South African farming practises.
For what will corncobs be used?
Quite simply, the corncobs collected will be used for the production of biorenewable chemicals and energy. Initially the main product will be an industrial chemical called furfural The residue from this production will be used to e.g. generate power for furfural production and any other agro-processing industry operations in the area.
What is “furfural” and what is a “GreenEnergyPark™”?
Furfural is a liquid chemical, which is made from biomass such as corncobs, oat hulls, sunflower husks, sugarcane bagasse and that finds industrial application in the manufacture of resins (esp. for moulds in steel industry). It is also a building block and intermediary for other chemicals, polymers and plastics and also used in automotive, construction, aviation, chemical, pharmaceutical industries. The global market for furfural is growing and in 2010 the demand exceeded its supply. It has been industrially produced from different agricultural residues since 1922.
Based on a stable supply of corncobs, the co-production of furfural and energy (steam and electricity) is an ideal platform for agricultural processing operations to be grouped into or near a GreenEnergyPark™. This GreenEnergyPark™ could also serve existing processing facilities like grain milling, feed drying and fertilizer mixing, as well as benefit future farming related businesses.
DalinYebo has a secure long-term off-take for furfural, which therefore has the potential to immediately add (FOREX) revenue to mielie farming. In the long term, a GreenEnergyPark™ provides many possibilities for increased revenues to other farming related operations.
How much will it cost?
The overall investment for a new furfural plant that processes about 60,000 t of corncobs per year will be in the order of R50 million to R60million. Based on the biomass supply commitment, there will be co-investors from the global industry leaders. Investments by the farming community or other SA companies are welcomed. The modification cost to the agricultural equipment is minimal in the context of the overall business returns. The project payback period is around 4 years.
What are the risks?
The biggest risk is not to do anything about it! Timing is everything: Currently there are international investors who would like to visit South Africa as soon as possible to evaluate SA farmer’s willingness to supply corncobs on a long-term basis. This is an opportunity that is not to be missed.
I’m interested, how can I find out more about this opportunity?
For those interested in participation in this business opportunity, particularly with regard to corncob supply, are invited to meet representatives of the project promoters. The www.greenenergypark.co.za website contains background information about the GreenEnergyPark™ concept. More information will be provided and questions answered during our presentation. There will also be an opportunity for private meetings with farmers and/or other parties (e.g. contract harvesters) who have a serious interest.