Bioethanol from nipa sap to aid farm mechanisation.
Manila: The Philippine government is banking on biofuel from nipa sap to power its drive towards farm mechanisation in far-flung coastal areas of the country.
According to the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the government has established a distillation facility in the village of Binonoan in Infanta, Quezon that could convert sap taken from the nipa palm into fuel that runs piston engines such as those used by agricultural hand tractors, pump boats and electricity generators.
Nipa (scientific name: Nypa Fruiticans), grows abundantly in the costal areas of the Philippines where its dried fronds are used as roofing materials for huts. The water palm can also be found in other countries located in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The sap from the nipa can also be fermented into vinegar.
According to Engr. Alexis T. Belonio, the government intends to put up more distillation plants to process nipa into biofuel.
The distillation facility in Infanta was among three the government planned to put up in three years.
"This facility built basically produces hydrous bioethanol (95 per cent alcohol) fuel to be used for small farm machines," Belonio, lead inventor of the technology, said.
Hydrous bioethanol, he said which can be produced from the farm like nipa sap, sugar molasses, and sweet sorghum, is a good alternative for fuelling pumps, threshes, dryers and small rice mills.
The biofuel project dovetails with government plans to increase farm mechanisation in the country. "We need to increase rice production. One way to do this is to improve [farm practices from land preparation to post-harvest], and by [doing this], we need mechanisation. In mechanisation, we need fuel, so what is mechanisation without the gasoline? [With this facility], we have an option [on what energy type to use]," said Belonio, the first Filipino to win the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2008 for his breakthrough creation of a simple rice hull-powered stove.
Former PhilRice Executive Director Eufemio Rasco junior for his part, said the government is aware of the pressing need for alternative fuel to run farm engines. "We want to manufacture machines for farming that do not depend on fossil fuel," said.
"With our depleting fossil fuel supply, the bioethanol technology is a cost-efficient system because we can now produce and use clean energy at the least cost," Belonio said.
Aside from biofuel derived from nipa sap, the government is also looking at other possible sources of feedstock, such as coconuts and water lilies, the latter which is highly abundant in the country and is often regarded as a nuisance to river systems as they clog the waterways and often cause flooding.
The project is jointly implemented by the Mariano Marcos State University, PhilRice, the University of the Philippines Los BaEaAos, and the local government unit of Infanta.
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