Producing Energy and Fuel Ethanol from Sugarcane
Bronzeoak Philippines’ Jose Maria T. Zabaleta talks about the first Integrated Ethanol Distillery and Power Cogeneration Plant in the country.
Last 2006, Jose Maria T. Zabaleta was the executive director of the Philippine Sugar Millers Association, (PSMA) Inc. and eagerly spoke about his being an advocate of the use of sugarcane as a source of energy and fuel ethanol.
Today, the dynamic Zabaleta wears a different hat. As President and COO of Bronzeoak Philippines and Chairman of the San Carlos Bioenergy, Inc., the maverick businessman talks about sugarcane in a different light. It’s no longer just a mere crop from which we sweeten our foods, but also as potent source of fuel and electricity.
Together with Ms. Sheva Mehrabi, Bronzeoak Philippines’ corporate communication and marketing officer, Mr. Zabaleta giddily shared with us the huge and bright potentials of his latest project-the San Carlos Bioenergy, Inc.
What was the germ of idea behind San Carlos Bioenergy, Inc?
As you might probably know, we grow about 500,000 tons of sugarcane in San Carlos City but our sugar mill closed down nearly nine years ago because we were not really making money. So we decided, rather than put up a new sugar mill, the call of the day is bio-energy so we decided to put up an ethanol weed cogeneration plant. It’s a new field of agro-energy-as differentiated from agribusiness which is not really energy. So we invited Bronzeoak, which at that time had been established by my son, and together with Bronzeoak of the UK, we formed Bronzeoak Philippines to explore and really develop both bioenergy plant for renewable energy, cogeneration electricity and also for ethanol feeding. We put up the money. We put up the land and the planters joined in. We got one foreign and one Filipino investor. And we applied for a loan in the bank. It was slowly built like that.
How much money are we talking about here?
Well, the total cost of the plant is three billion pesos. And when we started, we just have above nothing. We began construction last year. It takes at least two years to build a plant. We are about 80% complete and we hope we will be doing the commissioning by next month and hopefully start receiving sugarcane by December and putting out ethanol by early January.
And how many people are employed in your company?
Directly employed is around 250. Indirectly employed (and ancillary services) is another 250.
We’re also expanding our R&D. Hopefully, when we have our two plants in place, we’re anticipating that we will expand our R&D operations as well. We’re likewise tapping our logistics. We are developing port facilities in San Carlos. We also have one in Subic to cater to the Manila market. All of these are part of our package.
How is sugarcane converted to ethanol?
Simple. We have the sugarcane. We will mill it and crush it and take out its juice. The juice will be evaporated. The evaporated juice will be sent to a distiller. It will be fermented and will be turned into ethanol. There are basically two by-products from this. One is gas, which is going to be used in the power plant. So one of our products is really selling electricity to the whole of San Carlos City. The other one is organic fertilizers. Our planters will save as much as 30% on fertilizer cost.
How much sugarcane are we talking about here?
About 1,500 tons a day. Hopefully, this will be a year-round operation. And we’re estimating to produce around 125,000 liters of ethanol a day which is about 30 to 35 million liters of ethanol per year. It’s about 10% of our ethanol requirement
Recently, there has been a debate on crops used for fuel and energy and its effect on food security. What’s your take on this?
In the case of sugar, we all know that we have an excess of it. There is no competition with food really. In corn, yes. Wheat, yes. But not in sugar.
How come other countries have developed their bio-fuel industry faster than ours but we’re actually ahead of them in proposing this?
Comparatively, the incentives we got are the normal incentives of the BOI grant which is really fine with us. But if you really want to promote bio-fuel, the incentives have to be more. The by product of ethanol is cogent and in other countries, they give tremendous incentives to this.
Where will you sell the ethanol?
Our ethanol is committed 10 years to Petron. We can only sell to Petron. But we’re trying to build two more plants somewhere (else. Those are not tied to Petron.
Do you think our consumers are now ready for bio-ethanol?
I think it caught the oil companies by surprise. You go to the gas stations-ubos nqad. The consumers like it because one, it enhances your octane level than pure gasoline and it’s cheaper. Actually it’ cheaper by Php2 but it should actually be cheaper by Php8.
If I may add, when we were pushing for the passage of the bio-fuels law, it was very crucial to us to explain these things not only to the oil companies but also to the car manufacturers as well. At the onset, there was this lack of confidence among the consumers because they hear stories about bio-fuel damaging your vehicles and things like that. So there really ought to be a massive campaign on this.
What have been your learning curves from, the two years of building your ethanol distillery and power cogeneration plant? We have to have sufficient feedstock. And here, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have a role to play. We have to do something to promote feedstock development. Another lesson learned is, if you put up an ethanol plant, you must do it the most modern way so that you can be competitive. Third lesson is, the market is the key to have the project launched. At least in our case, we have the market already.
So it goes without saying that your car is now running on ethanol? (Laughs) Oh, absolutely!
For inquiries on San Carlos Bioenergy, Inc., you can call tel. nos. +632752-0050 to 51, or email email@example.com. You can also visit their website at www.bronzeoak.com.ph