THE INNOVATION NATION
Innovation takes many forms. It could be a better mousetrap, a four-cylinder engine that turns into a V8 at the flip of a switch, or a way to run your transport fleet on fuel that you grow. The last-mentioned is what got Craig Waterman thinking innovatively, eight years ago, about biodiesel.
Biodiesel is nothing new, of course. The innovative part was working out a way to do it himself. An electrical engineer by profession, Waterman spent many months researching biodiesel.
Learning to make biodiesel was quick and easy even if, he says, “The first biodiesel processor I bought was inefficient and poorly designed.” After designing and building a completely new biodiesel processor with a very small footprint, he managed to build a flourishing biodiesel business. He identified a niche market for locally manufactured biodiesel processors in Southern Africa and went on to design 10 sizes, ranging from 80 litres to 11 000 litres.
Fast forward to 2016, and it has become apparent that, after some early public and investor enthusiasm, the subject of biofuels seems to have quietly slipped into neutral gear. Government’s stated intention was to have 2 per cent biodiesel (blended with fossil diesel) in every service station forecourt in the country by 1 October 2015. That, clearly, has been pushed out pending agreement on the salient points of policy – never mind the finer details – for the big commercial operators. For small non-commercials such as Waterman, modest government incentives make it more or less economical to produce up to 300 000 litres year. Frankly, that’s a drop in the diesel ocean.
Which is only partly why I came to be standing in a Cape Town industrial estate , savouring the whiff of converted chip fryer oil as Craig’s wife and business partner Bettina reversed their biodiesel- driven truck out of their factory.
Our feature “Don’t kill the diesel” (Cars, December 2015) drew Waterman’s ire for portraying the biodiesel industry as dirty with inferior quality biodiesel. So we accepted his invitation to see for ourselves.
Recycling remains an inherently messy business, but in fairness, the spick and span interior of his warehouse shows that you needn’t be slipping and sliding around in the contents of last week’s deep-fryer oil. You might just have to watch out at times, though, to avoid getting in the way of retail customers arriving to fill up their vehicles at R10,72 a litre (as of December 2015).
We will deal with his story more fully in a subsequent issue of Popular Mechanics, but for the moment the pressing question remains: what will it take to get biodiesel back on the agenda?
“A change in mindset,” says Waterman. And with that he meansacross the board: legislators, consumers, all of us. Some innovative thinking, in a sense.
Speaking of innovation, we are constantly reminded that we are surrounded by some very clever people. In this month’s issue, you can read about a poultry abattoir that kills two birds with one stone: it not only cost-effectively does its primary job, but also boosts community upliftment. We report on a locally developed telemetry solution for the Bloodhound Land Speed Record attempt and, from the same company, a neat solution to a growing scourge, vandals and thieves at cellphone base stations. There are also drones harnessing virtual reality to help us see inside underground pipes. Drones that benefit food security.
Drones that are waterproof. All of them examples of local ingenuity. By the way, if anybody invents a better mousetrap or, better still, finds a way to turn a four-cylinder into a V8 at the flip of a switch, you know who to call.