According to a Jan. 14 story in the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s Khon Kaen University (KKU) plans to develop sweet sorghum as a new material for ethanol if it can get government financial support, Krairit Nilkuha, director-general of the Dept. of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency, told the newspaper.
“We are considering providing project finance of about 100 million baht accordingly to the researchers’ requirements to bring this pilot project to a commercial scale,” the article quoted Krairit as saying. The money would come from the Energy Conservation Fund.
The article continued:
“’Sweet sorghum is usually planted in small household plots for feeding parrots and is not generally cultivated commercially, said Krairit. ‘But since the crop seems to have more economic value, our task initially is to promote a commercial-sized plantation. We need huge output if we want to feed [the ethanol] production plants,’ said Krairit…
“Thailand’s current ethanol production depends on cassava and sugarcane, both of which are winter crops.
“‘Sweet sorghum would be the new option for the ethanol producer. Since farm products are seasonal, which we cannot control, we need different crops in different seasons to ensure we have raw materials all through the year,’ said Krairit. Feedstock prices would also be less volatile, he added…
“KKU began research and development into sweet sorghum at its fields and laboratories several years ago after it found the crop's high sugar content could suit production of ethanol as well as sugar.
“Associate Professor Prasit Jaisil, a researcher from KKU’s department of plantation and agricultural research, said his department found that one ton of sorghum cane can produce almost 70 liters (L) of ethanol, just slightly less than the production from one ton of sugarcane and of a similar quality.”
The university is now aiming to double the yield of sweet sorghum during the next two years to 10 tons per rai (0.16 hectares) from the current yield of 5 tons, according to the article.
The Post further reported:
“The university’s sorghum lab was originally a collaboration between KKU and SET-Listed Khon Kaen Sugar Industries Plc, Thailand’s fourth-largest sugar producer, to seek new materials to replace sugarcane, he said.
“But the emergence of energy crops has changed the research’s objective to developing alternative fuels.
“‘We are asking for a total of 100 million baht in government support to buy equipment and facilities for developing the pilot plant, which will produce on a commercial scale of 1,000 L of ethanol per day. The plant should be ready to start operations in the next two or three years,’ said the researcher.
“‘We also plan to develop further products from sweet sorghum. We think it could be a material for bioplastic as well as chemical substances for food ingredients.’
“India and China are also looking at developing sweet sorghum as a raw material to secure ethanol raw materials, he said…
“KKU and its facilities and human resources are ready to set up Thailand’s first commercial ethanol plant from sweet sorghum, he said. Once the project is completed, the university plans to set up sorghum plantations in the Northeast of Thailand, where the university is located…
“Thailand estimates that demand for ethanol will rise to 3 million L per day in 2011, up from 1.3 million L now.” – Louise Poirier