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25-October-2006 Manila Bulletin

The Philippines is catching up to be in the forefront of ethanol technology as an investor is set to put up a pioneering 200,000-liter per day plant that runs on the cost-effective and environment-friendly feedstock sweet sorghum.

A team of investors together with government authorities led by Presidential Assistant for Northern Luzon Enrie Mendoza is mapping out the establishment of the country's first sweet sorghum ethanol plant which may even turn out to become the country's first ethanol plant. It took only one year to put up a 40,000 liter sweet sorghum ethanol plant of Rusni Distilleries Ltd. in Patancheru given access to technology.

"A business group is going to India in November to visit the ethanol plant there," an official said.

Sweet sorghum has a lower ethanol production cost of P13.11 per liter against sugarcane's R14.98 per liter. Unlike sugarcane which is a one-year crop, sweet sorghum can be harvested two to three times a year.

Water requirement may be one-fourth less with only 8,000 cubic meter (cu.m.) over two crops compared to 36,000 cu.m. for sugarcane. Sweet sorghum ethanol productivity is at 3,200 liters per year at 80 metric tons (MT) per hectare millable stalk over two crops at 40 liters ethanol yield.

Sweet sorghum's productivity stems basically from its inherent C4 metabolism which makes it more efficient at converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into sugar than most plants.

Production process is less polluting with lower sulfur emission and ethanol has clean burning quality with higher octane content. Hybrid sweet sorghum may turn out to have a higher brix (sweetness) than sugarcane since hybrids are now found to have a 19.9 percent brix per meter, but researchers are continuing to breed for higher brix of more than 20 percent.

But sweet sorghum can definitely complement sugarcane growing as it can substitute for sugarcane as feedstock needing only little modification in the plant.

Field tests of sweet sorghum at the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) in Ilocos Norte showed promising yield with stripped stalk yield of 45 to 60 MT per hectare for the variety SPV 422 and a 19 percent brix per meter. Yield even once hit a high of 70 MT per hectare in the country.

To be successful though in incubating this technology, the government obviously has to support the private sector through financing, technical assistance, and research support considering that it will have significant multiplier effect in the economy.

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