By 2013, the country may start producing the first sweet sorghum-based bioethanol, the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) said Monday.

According to the bureau, the Philippine National Oil Co.-Alternative Fuels Corp. (PNOC-AFC) is now in exploratory talks with the San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to create a 1,000-hectare sweet sorghum plantation in Negros Occidental.

The plantation’s produce will be used as feedstock for the San Carlos Bioenergy plant in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental.

“We're trying to do this because the price of sugar in the market is very volatile, and we need to help produce the feedstock," said BAR director Nicomedes Eleazar.

Sweet sorghum is ideal to sugarcane as ethanol feedstock because of its resilience to drought and lower water requirements, according to the bureau.

Prior high prices of sugar in the world market have prompted farmers in northern Negros to sell sugarcane for sugar production rather than bioethanol feedstock. Sugar producers offer as much as P2,200 per metric ton (MT) for sugarcane while ethanol distilleries can only offer P1,550 per MT.

Studies have indicated that sweet sorghum production would need P45 million to P75 million in investments to cover the P30,000 to P50,000 per hectare in production cost. Estimates show that 1,000 hectares of sweet sorghum may produce as much as 2.5 million liters of bioethanol per year.

Importance of feasibility study

Rex Demafelis of the University of the Philippines Los BaƱos Alternative Energy Research, Development, and Extension Thrusts said that the BAR helped in mainstreaming sweet sorghum as complementary feedstock to bioethanol.

Demafelis also highlighted the importance of a feasibility study, due by the end of 2012 from AFC, to validate previous past studies. AFC is also doing a “site specificity analysis."

Once a feasibility study confirms the economic viability of the plantation, AFC and San Carlos Bionenergy will then sign a memorandum of agreement.

Two other companies did a comprehensive research on sweet sorghum for ethanol. Seaoil affiliate Fuel Inc. started a 16,000-square-meter field trail area in Negros Occidental after acquiring a 36-hectare area in Negros for an ethanol production plant.

Lucio Tan’s Negros Biochem Corp., meanwhile, has an 848-sqm trial area with an observed yield of 49 MT per hectare.

Increasing demand

With the implementation of the mandated 10 percent mix of bioethanol in gasoline, the country’s total ethanol requirement is seen to hit 400 million liters per year.

By 2015, levels are expected to reach 645 million liters with a 15 percent mandated bioenthanol-gas mix.

Foreign exchange savings were estimated at $218.203 million starting in 2010, $789.3 million by 2015 and $1.274 billion by 2020.

Bioethanol production is also expected to generate up to 289,611 jobs by 2020.



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