AFTER the furore which attended the re-introduction fuel blending, the market seems to be warming to the products, the country's leading ethanol producer has said.
Green Fuel, which established a $600 million ethanol production plant at Chisumbanje in Manicaland, said uptake of blend has so far exceeded expectations.
"Over 5,000 cars in Harare and Chipinge are now using e85, a blend of 85 percent Zimbabwean ethanol and only 15 percent unleaded petrol," the company said in a statement.
"Weekly deliveries to the 16 service stations retailing the fuel have increased by over 400 percent since the product was launched in May this year."
The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) ordered mandatory blending in August, starting with E5 which comprised 95 percent petrol and 5 percent ethanol, later rising to E10.
And last month ZERA said the blending must be raised to 15 percent ethanol or E85 adding plans were underway to increase this to 20 percent in order to save the country about $72 million in fuel imports annually.
"The market push towards e85 is primarily the price, which ranges from $1.08 to $1,10 a litre at a time normal unleaded is retailing at beyond $1,51 and beyond the $1,80 mark within the SADC region," Greenfuel said.
The company says to drive on E85, petrol engine vehicles need to be fitted with a Flexfuel upgrade kit - a small unit mounted in the engine compartment allowing the use of e85, other ethanol blends as well as 100 per-cent unleaded.
Some motorists have however expressed reservations over blended petrol and information minister Jonathan Moyo recently weighed in, urging a review of the policy.
"We need to subject that policy to review and refine it so that it doesn't make us a laughing stock," Moyo said during a public lecture at NUST university in Bulawayo last month.
But Green Fuel said public reaction to E85 had been positive.
"(The few complaints we have had bordered) on the lack of consistency in supply by some of our retailers, and one motorist raised concern about a higher consumption rate for his car.
"Our team of mechanics immediately looked into the matter and adjusted it accordingly. Generally, there is an increase of between 15 - 20% in the consumption rate when using E85 but this is offset by the 40% price difference between ethanol and unleaded petrol," the company said.
Green Fuel was threatened with collapse due to political differences in the last coalition government over the project.
But after the introduction of mandatory blending, the company said it was "excited and proud to have presented local motorists with this fuelling choice at a time most economies are reeling from the impact of unstable global oil prices".
The Chisumbanje plant employs more than 4,000 workers and has a maximum capacity of 300,000 litres of ethanol produced from cane and 18 megawatts of electricity.
The firm, now a joint venture with the government in line with local empowerment laws, recently announced plans to establish four more ethanol plants in the country, increasing capacity to 1.5 billion litres annually by 2018.
The project was expected to help reduce the country's fuel import bill and prevent shortages of the kind experienced in the last decade as Zimbabwe reeled under an economic recession.
The economic crisis was, among other things, characterised by the scarcity of foreign currency which hit the importation of fuel.