Lop Buri farmers grow both food and biofuel trees
Solar farms, wind farms and biomass farms have been scaling up around the world as governments and the private sector join forces, adopting renewable energy strategies to combat climate change caused by fossil-fuel emissions.
Wattanapong Thongsoi, managing director of the Tipawat Corporation Ltd, has run his biomass fuel business since 2011. The son of a rubber farmer wants to explore the potential for renewable energy, hoping to find a higher and stable income from it. Wattanapong set up factory in Lop Buri province to produce wood logs, chips, pellets and other fibre products to feed biomassenergy generators. He also exports wood pelฌlets to South Korea and Japan. Annual sales are about Bt10 million.
Wattanapong has invested about Bt20 million in his factory that proฌduces the woodbased inputs that feeds producers of biomassgenerated electricity. He has secured contracts with many farmers whose combined land area of 2,000 rai (320 hectares) produces leucaena, a fast growing tree – and Wattanapong’s raw materials for creating wood chips and pellets. He also sources the byproduct of animal feeds made from the leaf of leucaena trees.
Many farmers have divided their land to grow sugar cane to supply sugar production and leucaena trees to supply for energy production.
He is upbeat, as the government recently announced a national goal to raise consumption of renewable energy to 40 per cent of the nation’s total energy over the next 20 years. And under the Alternative Energy Development Plan (AEDP2015) the government plans to almost triple consumption of renewable energy from a current 12 per cent to 30 per cent in the next 20 years at the expense of fossil fuel consumption
The plans include an increase in biomassgenerated electricity to 5,500 megawatt from the current 2,500 megawatts.
Wattanapong claimed his busiฌness could save 200,000 tonnes of CO2 yearly as trees act as carbon “sinks”, incorporating carbon from greenhouse gases into their cellular structure.
He plans to increase biomass production when his new factory is comฌpleted next month, and his sources of leucaena grow to a 10,000rai area.
Thailand is suitable for making pellet wood due our abundant sunshine and adequate rainfall.
“We can plant fastgrowing trees in every part of the country except in the southern region where sunshine is limited,” he said.
The cost of planting tree is not high since farmers do not need to plant them every year. Newly-planted trees can be harvested after 14 months, with no need for fertiliser or pesticide, he explains.
Praipol Koomsup, an energy economist, said there are some technical issues related to electricity production using biomass as fuel.
Some electricity generators, for example the Bt400, five-megawatt project in Trang province, use rubber wood as fuel. Investors bought machines from India and China and encountered technical problems. Burning rubber wood generates tar as a byproduct, which in turn damages the machine, thus increasing maintenance costs and adding to the overall financial calculation, said Praipol.
Rice husk is an alternative source of biofuel, but factories often face a shortage of raw materials.
“Yet some biomassgenerated electricity operators have been successful and the biomass industry has high potential if we could solve technical issues,” said Praipol.
In Finland, Saara Kankaanrinta, cofounder of Soilfood Ltd and Ovidja Power Ltd, opts for higher technology. A pioneer in environmentally-friendly food and energy, Ovidja owns a patent for a biomethane reactor that uses microbes to produce methane gas that can be utilised as car fuel or fuel for electricฌity production.
She and her husband are building a methane reactor on her farm near Helsinki. They expect to get more profit from selling energy than selling foods from their farm.