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Thursday, December 15, 2011

“Bench-type” distillery for ethanol production in Ilocos may lead to Philippines’ sweet sorghum ethanol mass production

A “bench-type” distillery that will process sweet sorghum into ethanol in Ilocos Norte is seen to pave the way to Philippines’ mass production of biofuel among smallhold farms which will create jobs in rural areas.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Region I has financed through its KR2 program the establishment of the village-type distillery that will use sweet sorghum as feedstock. NEDA has released P1 million for this pilot program.

Now in its commission, the distiller has a capacity of 50 liters per day, merely a pilot scale. However, the government has a vision of massively replicating it in a bigger scale.

“When they saw that it’s possible to put up this village-type distillery, NEDA saw the potential for sweet sorghum to create jobs in rural areas and create an industry since its low cost can enable its replication elsewhere,” said Dr. Heraldo L. Layaoen, National Sweet Sorghum Program (NSSP) leader.

The bench-type distillery will initially produce hydrous ethanol which can already generate sales for two commercial products—disinfectant and moisturizer.

However, the long term goal is to produce fuel-grade anhydrous ethanol . NSSP is presently trying to find ways to make dehydration, or the process of removing water from the hydrous ethanol, cheaper compared to the present cost to produce fuel-grade ethanol.

By February 2012, the Bapamin Multi Purpose Cooperative (MPC), together with its cooperator Bungon Seed Producers’ MPC will start milling the sweet sorghum for processing into ethanol.

Excess juice will be processed into syrup for longer storage which will be used for ethanol production during rainy days when milling of stalks is not convenient.

Ilocos farmers have already been planting sweet sorghum in Batac, Ilocos Norte over the last five years with the assistance of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) headed by its director, Dr. Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

Bapamin, headed by farmer Doris Bumanglag-Arcangel, has been selling food-grade syrup and vinegar in 66 outlets all over the country. They are currently planting on 65 hectares, but the target area is 100 hectares.

“They should already be harvesting by now, but their planting has been delayed by the unseasonal rains. By February (2012), we expect them to start milling as soon as the stalks are ready for harvest,” said Layaoen, also MMSU vice president for planning and extension.

Over the last five years, BAR has been funding field testing of sweet sorghum varieties in Ilocos and other sites in the vision to make Philippines less dependent on expensive, imported ethanol oil and generate rural jobs.

“Sweet sorghum is a good alternative to other ethanol feedstocks. It can stand alone as a life-giving crop to farmers in farflung areas because it is used to make many food products like juice and syrup. But we will maximize its economic value if we’re able to successfully produce ethanol from it,“ said Eleazar.

With more bench distillery in an area, farmers’ cooperatives may be able to produce 1,000 to 5,000 liters of hydrous ethanol per day.

An NSSP master plan being drafted indicates that from the collection of hydrous ethanol from the village level, this product should be transported to a Central Dehydrating Plant (CDP) which should be near a fuel depot.

At the CDP level, bigger processing firms are expected to participate in this potential industry that is hoped to be supported by many government agencies. More investments may be required at the CDP-fuel depot level.

BAR has obtained outstanding varieties of sweet sorghum through its partnership with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar is set to inaugurate the bench-type distillery in a turnover ceremony by Dec. 28, 2011.

The distillery has also been developed with the assistance from Department of Science and Technology through its Balik Scientist Dr. Sergio Capareda of the Texas University. Capareda designed the distilling column and guided its fabrication, while MMSU Material Science expert, Samuel S. Franco designed the furnace.

The NSSP already sees hope of Philippines’ commercial production of sweet sorghum ethanol as several large companies have positioned themselves for its processing. Among these are Seaoil’s Fuel Inc. and PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corp. (PNOC-AFC).

The Green Future Innovation Inc. (GFII) is also presently completing an ethanol plant in San Mariano, Isabela which will have a capacity of 250,000 liters per day. While its feedstock will primarily be sugarcane, it intends to use sweet sorghum as a complementary crop which may be used as feedstock in between sugarcane milling seasons.

Field trials have shown that farmers can achieve an average yield of 55 metric tons (MT) per hectare of sweet sorghum stalk and 4,500 kilos of grains per harvest.

There can be as much as three harvests from one planting in a year - - that is one seed crop (or from the one planted) and two ratoon crops.

At a cane price of P700 per MT and at P10 to P12 per kilo of seeds, farmers can earn a net income of P83,000 to P95,000 per cropping. If cane price goes up to P900 per MT, farmers can earn a net income of P103,000 to P115,000 per cropping.

Along with job-generating benefits, sweet sorghum ethanol production may generate for the country carbon emission reduction benefits.

It is estimated that bioethanol has the potential to generate jobs totaling to 179,386 by 2015 and 289,611 by 2020. It may also generate foreign exchange savings placed at $789.3 million in 2015 and $1.274 billion in 2020 based on an NSSP study. Melody Aguiba, PSciJourn Mega Manila

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