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October-December 2013 Issue (Vol. 15 No. 4)

Ma. Eloisa H. Aquino

In response to the enactment of RA 9367, otherwise known as the Biofuels Act of 2006, which aims to reduce dependence on imported fuels with due regard to the protection of public health, the environment and natural resources, the Department of Agriculture (DA) crafted the DA Biofuel Feedstock Program.

The Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), as one of the member agencies of the Program, is in charge of developing viable and quality biofuel feedstock through research and development. The program covers strategies for ensuring sufficiency of feedstock supply for both biodiesel and bioethanol production. BAR coordinates and channels efforts of key players and stakeholders under unified biofuels R&D plans, programs, and activities.

BAR has continuously supported R&D activities which include identifying new feedstock, developing high-yielding varieties, and developing new processing technologies in cooperation with public and private research agencies, and international research institutes. It has also provided support for improving biofuel production management systems and the processing of raw materials. Feedstock identified for bioethanol include sugarcane, sweet sorghum, ligno-cellulosic materials, macro algae and cassava, while feedstock identified for biodiesel include coconut, micro algae and oil palm. At present, sugarcane is the main feedstock used for the production of bioethanol, while coconut is for biodiesel production in the Philippines. The Bureau is promoting sweet sorghum as a bioethanol feedstock complementary to sugarcane.

Sweet sorghum was introduced to the Philippines in 2006 through the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) under partnerships with local institutions particularly BAR. Through a series of projects that included adaptability trials, plantation and validation trials, production of quality sweet sorghum syrup, business summits and a plantation showcase, and production of anhydrous ethanol from sweet sorghum funded mainly by BAR, the feasibility of producing bioethanol from sweet sorghum in the country was realized.

Through collaborative efforts, biofuels R&D is now reaping success. The first anhydrous bioethanol from sweet sorghum was produced in the Philippines, specifically, in Negros Occidental in May 2012.

These activities were implemented by the University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation, Incorporated (UPLBFI) with financial support from BAR to showcase sweet sorghum’s potential as bioethanol feedstock, that is complementary to sugarcane, and to mainstream its commercialization.

The agreement among UPLBFI, Organic Products in the Island of Negros-Multipurpose Cooperative (OPTION MPC), and San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. (SCBI) was part of the BAR-UPLB collaboration which aims to showcase the technical and economic viability, and to establish the commercial-scale logistical requirement of fuel grade bioethanol production from sweet sorghum.

Production and Collaboration

Sweet sorghum commercial production was conducted in Sagay City, Negros Occidental using sweet sorghum pureline, SPV422. This was evaluated in two cropping seasons in 30-hectare land area for seed crop and 2-hectare for ratoon cropping.

“Through the support of Governor Joseph Marañon and Mayor Rafael Leo Cueva, the local government of Sagay City facilitated the availability of the 30 hectares land which were used for commercial plantation of sweet sorghum of which 22 hectares came from the City of Sagay and 8 hectares from the private sector,” said Prof. Rex Demafelis, UPLB Alternative Energy Research, Development and Extension convenor and UPLB Energy Systems Committee chair.

A sugarcane-producing region, Negros Occidental was slow to open its doors to commercial scale production of sweet sorghum and the attempt to introduce and further commercialize sweet sorghum production was not an easy task. However, with sheer determination, Prof. Demafelis and his team patiently endured a year before the first fuel production. “But because of the studies previously done and funded by BAR, we did not have to start from scratch. Then, we tapped various private companies to help in this endeavor,” he shared.

The team tapped the facilities of Organic Products in the Island of Negros-Multipurpose Cooperative (OPTION-MPC) of Sagay City and San Carlos Bioenergy Incorporated (SCBI) of San Carlos City where sweet sorghum syrup and fuel grade bioethanol were produced respectively.

“From a 24-hectare land allotted for seed production of sweet sorghum, there were 44 metric tons grain yield, 479.190 metric tons stalk yield, and 62 tons syrup yield which produced 15,000 liters of ethanol. This made the Philippines the first country in Southeast Asia to produce ethanol from sweet sorghum on a commercial scale,” Prof. Demafelis proudly reported.

The project implemented a parallel-system with sugarcane harvesting practices in order to easily introduce and, hence, facilitate easier adoption of sweet sorghum by the farmers. Convinced with the promising future of sweet sorghum, private farm land owners of sugarcane areas soon tried planting sweet sorghum. “The whole production cycle can generate additional employment and income opportunities for the people of Sagay,” Prof. Demafelis said.

Other than the beneficial uses of sweet sorghum, the locals were encouraged to plant the said crop since it requires less input (fertilizer, irrigation, etc.). Furthermore, sweet sorghum provides yield from three cropping seasons in a year compared to sugarcane which takes 11 months resulting to a faster return of income.Sweet sorghum has comparative advantages to sugarcane as a raw material especially for farmers who want to earn income faster and gain more profit. “Farmers can earn as much as 70,000 pesos a year, half of which can be earned in four months, with the rest attainable in only 90 days as sweet sorghum can be ratooned,” shared by Prof. Demafelis. Farmers can also sell the crop’s grains, which can be as much as six tons/2 cropping/yr that can be processed into food and feed. A kilogram of its grain can be sold at 13-15 pesos.

This activity was carried out by the sweet sorghum team from UPLB including, Professor Rex B. Demafelis, project Leader; Dr. Emmanuel G. Samson of UPLB-CA Research and Training Station at La Granja, La Carlota City, Negros Occidental; and Dr. Cecilia B. Pascual of the Institute of Plant Breeding, UPLB. This initiative was in collaboration with Mr. Jerelu Ganancial, City Agriculturist officer, and his staff; and through the supervision of experts on sweet sorghum led by Dr. Heraldo Layaoen, formerly of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

Over the years, BAR, together with other R&D institutions, has been working with prospective investors and businessmen who have expressed interest in the development of biofuels in the country and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. ###