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Socket to me: sugar cane waste could hold the answers to Central America's energy problems.

Central America is feeling the effects for its heavy dependence on foreign crude oil. Five countries in the region import practically all of the fuel they use. In 2002, Central American countries (not counting Belize) consumed 88.4 million barrels of fuel at a price tag of US$2.38 billion, according to Secretaria de Integracion Economica Centroamericana. Now, seven resourceful sugar cane processors in Honduras are working to produce at least some of that energy from sugar cane waste.

Today, 65,000 hectares of sugar fields in Honduras produce 5 million tons of sugar cane with the potential Lo generate 344 megawatts of electric energy. According to Carlos Melara, manager of the Honduran sugar producers' association, that power output would require 51 million gallons of bunker fuel, a petroleum derivative, at a price of $56 million. One Honduran sugar cane factory has the capacity to supply electricity to light up a city of 200,000 people.

Honduras' sugar industry is going long on the need to produce clean energy, investing $54 million. In addition, the government is supporting the generation of 300 megawatts of renewable electric energy. "The idea is to progressively change the way the supply is generated and to depend on thermoelectric energy as little as possible," says Patricia Panting, natural resources minister of Honduras.

Panting has reasons to be optimistic. She calculates that burning processed sugar cane waste to produce one kilowatt of power can cut costs by 50%. Experts say that figure translates into savings between $0.02 and $0.03 per kilowatt.

It's a waste not to take advantage of energy derived from sugar cane. In 2005, the country will produce 385,050 tons of sugar, a million bags more than produced a year earlier. From molasses, a sugar cane byproduct, refineries also can produce ethanol to be used as a substitute for fuel imports and export ethanol to the United States.

"The goal is to produce more than 10 million gallons of ethanol with molasses to avoid importing the same amount of gasoline," says Yamal Yibrin, president of the sugar trade group. Doing so could save Honduras $11 million a year. It could also export 50% of its product to neighboring countries. For Central America, the import substitution translates into savings of $150 million, according to the United Nations.

Central American countries are promoting programs to produce ethanol. Investments in the industry are forecast to exceed $200 million. On top of that, the region has the potential to process 900 million liters of molasses a year. Major sugar producers such as Brazil and the United States have already taken big steps to use ethanol as a fuel. Colombia's sugar industry is also in the process of becoming a producer of the fuel.

Yet for Central America, market-share opportunities are a definite reality thanks to the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act of 2000 (CBTPA), which facilitates Central American exports to the United States--hopefully ethanol. "We are counting on a zero-percent tax preference for ethanol under some conditions that will consolidate once the free trade agreement with the United States is signed," says Yibrin, referring to the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement, currently under negotiation. It is estimated that by 2006 ethanol consumption in the United States will rise to 12 billion liters, which could open the doors to an attractive market for Honduran sugar cane producers.

Up to now, the Banco Centroamericano de Inegracion Economica and other financial entities have invested $50 million to kick off the incentive. Yibrin predicts output will rise to 250 megawatts from 80 megawatts currently. clean machine. Jacobo Weizemblut, chief administrator of the Azucarera Yojoa sugar factory in San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second-largest city, says the outlook of producing biomass fuels in the country is looking up thanks to the cleanliness of the process. "Raw materials do exist, but a cost-benefit analysis must be conducted to more the project ahead," Weizemblut says.

At the end of 2004, there were 22 projects generating 134 megawatts nationwide; of these, 15 were running on vegetable waste, such as processed sugar cane. The country expects to produce 69 additional megawatts of hydroelectric energy this year. Currently, Honduran factories such as Azucarera Tres Valles, Yojoa and La Grecia produce 35 megawatts, while others such as Lean and Aguan only generate about half of a megwatt each. Power generation forecast for each plant ranges between 12.5 and 30 megawatts a year.
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Comment:Socket to me: sugar cane waste could hold the answers to Central America's energy problems.
Author:Aguero, Luisa
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:20CEN
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:741
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