DA: Sugarcane areas to expand by 60,000 hectares for bioethanol production
Quezon City (1 September) -- The Department of Agriculture (DA) has already validated a total of 60,250 hectares of new sugarcane areas that can produce a combined 274 million liters of bioethanol, which is more than enough to meet the requirement under the Biofuels Act on the blending of crop-based alternative fuels with gasoline by 2009.
DA Secretary Arthur Yap said these 60,250 hectares of potential sugarcane farms identified by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) are on top of the existing sugarcane farms totaling 38,500 hectares that are more than sufficient to meet the country's sugar requirements.
"These new areas for sugarcane will produce more than enough bioethanol needed to meet the 2009 requirement of 255 million liters," Yap said during a recent agricultural forum in Cagayan de Oro City. "We need about 10 refineries with at least 30 million liters annual capacity to produce this volume."
Yap said in the same forum that the expansion of sugarcane areas for bioethanol production would help improve the living conditions of more than 55,000 farmers dependent on sugarcane harvesting.
In compliance with Republic Act 9367 or the Biofuels Act, all diesel engine fuel are to be pre-blended with 1% coco biodiesel. This blending ratio will double to 2% by February 2009.
The law also requires that a minimum of 5% of ethanol be pre-blended with gasoline by February 2009, with the ratio doubling to 10% by February 2011.
Yap noted that based on SRA studies, a total of 377,182 hectares of land in the country are suitable for planting sugar, of which 17.2% are in Luzon; 53. 3% in Negros; 6.9% in Panay Island ; 4.4% in Eastern Visayas; and the remaining 19.1% in Mindanao.
He likewise pointed out that the Department of Energy (DOE) has reported that at least seven investors with a combined annual capacity of 402 million liters or 46% more than the currently projected cane farms, have already expressed interest in building sugar refineries to produce bioethanol.
This means that additional farms covering at least 28,000 hectares still need to be identified by the government to meet the projected capacity of these seven investors, Yap said.
"We have enough land to meet sugar ethanol refinery requirements," Yap said. "DOE reports more than enough prospective refinery investors. What is only left for us to do is plant the sugarcane."
At present, sugarcane is the most reliable feedstock for bioethanol production because its farming technologies are available in the country, which now enjoys a large surplus sugar produce, Yap said.
Sugarcane is an annual crop with an estimated yield of 4,550 liters of biofuel per hectare.
"Compared with other feedstock, only ethanol from sugarcane can be produced in a totally renewable and environment-friendly process by using bagasse — a sugarcane waste material — to fuel boilers that generate the required steam and electricity for the distillery," Yap said.
The first bioethanol plant in the country using sugarcane as feedstock is the San Carlos Bio-Energy Inc. facility in Negros Occidental, which is due to open in late 2008 or early 2009, he added.
The Biofuels Act, which was signed into law by President Arroyo last January, aims to ease the country's addiction to imported, dollar-draining and pollution-generating petroleum products.
Yap said that with the ever-growing global demand for crops-based alternative fuels, RA 9367 will energize Philippine farms, increase the profitability of small stakeholders in the agriculture sector, and reduce the country's dependence on imported energy sources.
The DA was among the key agencies tasked to draw up the implementing rules and regulations or IRR of the Biofuels Law. (PIA) [top]