Brian Sibusiso Mpono is Playing his Part in ensuring that South Africa has a cleaner, greener future. His company, Khwezi Oils, is exploiting a new niche in the South African fuel market by making biofuel, refined from waste cooking oil, and it’s proving a hit with local trucking companies.
Brand South Africa reporter
Thirty-year-old Mpono, from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, recognised the knock-on effects of volatile crude oil prices on the South African market, and that fossil fuels are creating environmental problems.
He says, “I came to learn that biodiesel was the next big thing in the fuel industry and understood the volatility of the crude oil price and its effects on the South African economy. Too, that it was the prime answer to global warming and climate change as an alternative environmentally friendly energy fuel; this I researched and got from the rest of the world.”
In 2011, Mpono founded Khwezi Oils Biodiesel and Khwezi Biodiesel; “At this point I realised that my business was to pioneer an innovation that did not exist commercially, by a young black South African … in the history of ‘petro-fuels’ at a refinery level.
“The scale and enormity of the industry of my business is a colossal; Brent crude supplies are dwindling, and South Africa relies heavily on Brent crude oil for its refineries, which is why the price of fuel is out of control in South Africa. However, bio-diesel on the other hand uses sunflower oil (waste), collected from hospitality industry hotels, restaurants, fast food franchises and the like so dependency shifts from Brent crude to oil that is always available and also environmentally friendly, saving the ozone from carbon emissions and ultimately global warming.”
Mpono is turning “trash-into-cash” now, supplying mainly the construction and trucking and logistics industries for the past three years. In its first year of trade Khwezi Oils generated R1.2-million in turnover, of which 30% was gross profit.
When speaking about his love for the environment and his green initiatives, Mpono said he simply looked at where the “world is going and where it will be over the next 50 years”, and his common denominator was “green energy”.
“The sulphur content in fossil fuels was the main cause of global warming because of carbon emissions, and biofuels was the answer.”
He said he had always had the ability to meet communities’ needs.
“The Wright Brothers revolutionised aviation; they foresaw that soon air travel will be necessary, whether they would still be living in that century or not didn’t matter; Jimmy Dunlop saw it necessary that just like human beings vehicles need ‘shoes’ and invented the rubber tyre; William Burton, the father of petroleum fuel, burnt oil at extremely high temperatures to refine fuel; Karl Benz and his wife, [created] the first petroleum powered engine. Just like all these pioneers, I have always had a knack for providing solutions for what the market wants and needs and meeting that.”
Kwezi Oils starts up
Initially Mpono ran a communications company, Khwezi Communications. He’d studied in the field, but the company didn’t succeed and he found himself unemployed.
Then in early 2011, Mpono says,”I met a gentleman who ran a business with a fleet of trucks; we were just having a casual chat and he said to me he makes his own diesel! I said ‘nonsense’, because only Sapref, Engen and Chevron have refineries making fuel from brent crude oil.”
“He said he makes it from sunflower oil, ok! He said come see it; I went to see him and yes he was making biodiesel as a hobby. Then me and my media knowledge I start going on telling where what and how, then he turns around and says to me; ‘Brian, if you can commercialise this biodiesel plant and make a business concern out of it, I will assist you in making it happen. Put your ideas and plans on paper and come see me tomorrow; I will teach you everything there is to know about biofuels’.
“The next day I was back at his office; we sat down and spent a couple of hours going through formalities. By the close of business that day I had a fully-fledged biofuel business… he backed me to the tune of R300 000.”
Despite the company’s early success, biodiesel was still relatively unknown in South Africa; Mpono says, “Overseas it was as common as spring water; maverick approach; I took my product to where it was needed; taxi and bus ranks, trucking companies; my product was not tried and tested, but I did it anyway risking the impact it might have on the engines on my clients’ vehicles. I did it anyway because I rested on the vision that come 2013 it will become a hot topic… I pursued with trial and error with an existing business concern.
“Others shunned it because they were surprised by a black South African involved in fuel production; unheard of between Cape Town and Limpopo; those who tried it, tried it and were happy; those who weren’t, well I just didn’t convince them so I soldiered on.”
Khwezi Oils is a two-fold business; creating profits for Mpono and his suppliers, many of which are local households. Mpono pays R4 per litre for waste oil, which would usually be thrown away.
“In effect, waste cooking for me is liquid oil, and these households are throwing away money they could get back passively but they don’t know. Through Play Your Part, I have always envisaged educating communities, schools, universities about the environmental impact of ‘waste oil’, and how trash can be turned into cash.
“Using open areas within these townships, set up recycling stations for disposing of used cooking oil, I would then pay that community for … each litre they dispose of. Through this initiative I am empowering and developing that community through environmental education at the same time – awareness for the environment they live in; because the very same waste cooking oil they dispose of for me, is the same ‘waste’ that will contribute to developing their community through the money generated from the oil; essentially I am subsidising their spend on cooking oil.
“I am conscientising these communities to contribute actively and positively to saving the country and world from global warming by being environmentally friendly. But it takes a game changer like me to make them aware.”
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