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Sweet sorghum bioethanol technology ready for adoption

The National Academy of Science and Technology, Philippines (NAST PHL) organized a focus group discussion on Are We Ready for Sweet Sorghum Bioethanol?, held at Le Salon, Hyatt Hotel Manila, Pedro Gil, Manila on 11 December 2012.

Dr. Heraldo L. Layaoen, vice president for Planning, Development and External Linkages of Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) Batac, served as the main speaker of the FGD. He presented the status and technological challenges of turning sweet sorghum into bioethanol. Engr. Samuel S. Franco, associate professor and Scientist II at MMSU, provided some insights into the price of sweet sorghum bioethanol compared to commercial fuels and Brazilian bioethanol. Participants came from various agencies like the Department of Energy (DoE), Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC), House of Representatives Committee on Energy and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST).

According to Acd. Culaba, the enactment of Republic Act 9367 or the Biofuels Act of 2006 “prompted the government to heighten efforts to develop, produce and distribute high-quality, reasonably-priced and environment-friendly alternative fuels.” Several agricultural crops were grown for biofuel testing such as corn, soybeans, cassava, jatropha, including sweet sorghum. Dr. Culaba added that given the various studies conducted, sweet sorghum turned out to be the most economically advantageous and environmentally beneficial considering the whole production process. With the high amount of sugar that can be extracted and fermented to ethanol, sweet sorghum has a great potential in facing the challenges and risks posed by the looming energy crisis. Its grains can also be used as food beverage and feed and its leaves for fodder production.

Dr. Layaoen reported that test trials and validation were conducted in eight (8) different sites all over the country. This includes MMSU in Ilocos Norte, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) in Laguna, UP La Granja in Occidental Negros, Pangasinan State University (PSU) in Pangasinan, Tarlac College of Agriculture (TCA) in Tarlac, Isabela State University (ISU) in Isabela, and Central Mindanao University (CMU) in Bukidnon. The team of Dr. Layaoen found that sweet sorghum grows best during the dry season provided that irrigation is available. The sugar content of juice increased from flowering to maturity during the dry season in various sweet sorghum hybrids and varieties. Among hybrids, ICSA 731 x ICSV 93046 is good in both wet and dry seasons but ICSA 702 x SSV 74 is better during wet season. The SPV 422 variety is good during the wet season while SP 4511-3 and ICSV 93046 are better during the dry season. Better ratoon is produced when stalks are cut at maturity. Dr. Layaoen also presented the products derived from sweet sorghum like moisturizer, fresh juice, syrup, vinegar, flour, bread, cookies and other food products. The grains were also used as feeding material for red tilapia.

According to Engr. Franco, there are currently three (3) distilleries that process sweet sorghum for bioethanol production, these are: (1) San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. in Negros with the capacity of 30 million liters per year (MLPY), (2) Leyte Agro-Industrial Corp. with 9 MLPY, and (3) Roxol Bioenergy Corp. in Negros with 30 MLPY. These efforts  led to the production of anhydrous sweet sorghum ethanol in Negros earlier this year, the first in the Philippines and in the entire Southeast Asia. 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.

National Scientist Mercedes Concepcion asked about the involvement of the other MMSU units, especially in the socio-economics aspect and the willingness or level of acceptance of the public with regards to the bioethanol and other products. She added that demonstration is an effective way of raising awareness and increasing level of acceptance. Dr. Shirley Agrupis responded that her team is working on a DoE-funded study “Bioethanol Production and Trial Runs” that includes social acceptability, development of second generation pre-treatment protocols, and  technical feasibility studies for hydrous ethanol in 18 months. 

Dr. Layaoen added that seeds are ready for distribution and that the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is about to launch a new sweet sorghum variety harvestable within 100 days.  Ruby de Guzman also affirmed that the National Biofuels Board (NBB) will likely to endorse sweet sorghum bioethanol as soon as the results have been published and forwarded to the Board for review and approval.

The FGD is part of the efforts of the NAST Engineering Sciences and Technology  Division to lead in the discussion of energy-related matters like the status of Philippine energy program, alternative and renewable sources of energy and advanced energy conservation technologies.


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