Commercial competitiveness of sweet sorghum for bioethanol explored

THE sweet sorghum experience in Negros Occidental marked the commercial competitiveness of this smart crop as a complementary bioethanol feedstock.

This agricultural advancement was given light in a technical seminar titled, “Establishing Commercial Competitiveness of Sweet Sorghum as a Complementary Bioethanol Feedstock Based on Commercial Scale Production and Processing Experiences in Negros Occidental” presented by Prof. Rex Demafelis of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

The topic on sweet sorghum was one of the technical seminars featured during the recently concluded 8th Agriculture and Fisheries National Technology Forum and Product Exhibition organized by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR).

Prof. Demafelis is the program convenor of the UPLB Alternative Energy Research, Development, and Extension (RDE) and chair of the UPLB Energy Systems Committee, the UPLB Solid Waste Management Committee, and the UPLB Sewage Treatment Plant Rehabilitation Committee.

“[We have] conducted plantation validation trials jointly with bioethanol companies in Negros Occidental to showcase sweet sorghum’s complementary potential to sugarcane as bioethanol feedstock,” said Dr. Demafelis.

In view of the Republic Act 9367 or the Biofuels Act of 2006, the government has put its efforts in optimizing the use of biofuels and requiring the blending of bioethanol with all gasoline sold within the Philippines. “With 15 percent bioethanol blend in 2015, the needed number of distilleries with the capacity of thirty million liters per year (MLPY) will rise to 22,” expounded Dr. Demafelis.

Currently, there are three distilleries that process sweet sorghum for bioethanol production. These are: 1) San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. in Negros with the capacity of 30 MLPY, 2) Leyte Agro-Industrial Corp. with 9 MLPY, and 3) Roxol Bioenergy Corp. in Negros with 30 MLPY.
With the foreseeable increasing demand for bioethanol, three distilleries namely, 1) Green Futures Innovation Inc. in Isabela with 54 MLPY, 2) Negros Biochem Corporation with 120 MLPY, and 3) Fuel Incorporation in Negros with 30 MLPY are being looked at to potentially process sweet sorghum.

After the successful plantation and validation trials in Negros Occidental particulary in Sagay, Bago, San Carlos, and Binalbagan, trial sites are established in Northern Luzon (i.e., Pampanga, Tarlac, Isabela, Pangasinan) and in the marginal lands of Panay (i.e., Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, Antique).

Currently, sites in Northern Luzon are already completed in land preparation and planting procedures while sites in Panay are undergoing such procedures. “The project targets to introduce the production of sweet sorghum in the Panay region through the use of marginal lands to increase farmers’ income and land productivity,” explained Dr. Demafelis.

In 2011, the industry aimed to showcase the potentials of this crop through conducting the 1st Sweet Sorghum Business Summit and Plantation Showcase in order to attract investors and farmers. Now in the stage of commercial plantation and processing, procedures like plantation identification, milling and evaporation, and anhydrous ethanol production are being implemented.

The result of these efforts led to the production of the first anhydrous sweet sorghum ethanol in the Philippines and in the entire Southeast Asia. This was successfully produced in Negros earlier this year. The 30-ha sweet sorghum plantation in Sagay City was harvested and forwarded to OPTION-MPC for syrup production through milling and evaporation. The final procedures including fermentation, distillation, and dehydration were conducted in San Carlos Bioenergy Inc.

Through continuous R&D efforts together programs created to answer the demand for bioethanol, it is hoped that the Philippines will have its first sweet sorghum distillery soon.

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