The National Sweet Sorghum Program (NSSP) is consolidating investments for a 500 to 1,000-hectare land for sweet sorghum as bioethanol feedstock which has a ready market in the San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. (SCBI).

sweet sorghum

At a production cost of P45,000 to P55,000 per hectare, the plantation will require a low investment of P22.5 million (500 hectares) to a high of P55 million (1,000 hectares).

The NSSP is in talks with potential investors in the sweet sorghum plantation.

“There are two companies that are interested in investing in the plantation,” said NSSP Project Leader Rex B. Demafelis.

SCBI, operator of the Philippines’ first integrated ethanol distillery and co-generation power plant in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, is interested to buy the sweet sorghum production from this plantation.

The company just successfully produced last May a total of 15,231 liters from sweet sorghum syrup in a pilot run under the NSSP.

“We sold it to an industrial buyer,” said SCBI Vice President and Resident Manager Arnel J. Amparo of the volume SCBI produced from the pilot run.

With a quality that complies with ethanol standards set by the Department of Energy and one that is acceptable to the market, SCBI is seriously looking for a partner that will invest in the plantation.

“We’re ready to talk to (plantation) investors . We’re interested in buying their sorghum syrup,” said Amparo.

Aside from the two potential company-investors, Demafelis said government financial institutions like Land Bank and the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) can come in to finance the plantation.

BAR field trial program

The Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), which has spearheaded the NSSP, is committed to funding further field trials of sweet sorghum.

“The immense need for our country to produce bioethanol locally compels us to commit to pursuing commercialization of the use of sweet sorghum as complementary feedstock,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar. “We need more ethanol distilleries if we have to upscale our ethanol mix with gasoline.”

At a 15 percent projected bioethanol-gasoline blend by 2015, the country needs to put up 22 more distilleries that have a capacity of 30 million liters per year (MLPY).

BAR earlier funded the trial planting of sweet sorghum in a 30-hectare land in Sagay City in coordination with University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB)-Alternative Energy RDE (Research Development Extension) headed by Demafelis.

It is an area identified by NSSP collaborators consisting of private sector and local government representatives.

A total of 479 metric tons (MT) of sweet sorghum cane was harvested last May. From this trial planting, 61.78 MT of sweet sorghum syrup, or 13 percent of the cane harvest, was produced.

The conversion of sweet sorghum canes into syrup was carried out by Option Muscovado Plant Cooperative, one of the biggest muscovado producers in Sagay City.

Investment in a large scale plantation is critical to ensuring the commercial use of sweet sorghum as alternative feedstock.

Filipino farmers must be supported in their planting of this new drought-resistant crop developed by the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

More farmers are becoming interested in planting sweet sorghum, having realized its high potential income.

“We want to plant sweet sorghum because we found out it’s really sweet. We just want to be assured that someone will buy our produce,” said William del Rosario of the Centro Tomakolaya Farmers Multi Purpose Cooperative in Bani, Pangasinan.

Demafelis said the NSSP is extending assistance to farmers on how to sell sweet sorghum cane and its by-products.

NSSP is committing to link farmers from Bani, Pangasinan to potential seed buyers that will assure them a market for sweet sorghum, possibly at a fixed price through a contract farming system.

Demafelis said the NSSP also has a program to aid farmers in using sweet sorghum cane and seed for various uses. This includes use as cattle or animal feed or fodder.

BAR’s academe partners are also training farmers and housewives on the processing of sweet sorghum for cookies, delicacies, vinegar, juice, sweetener, soap, and hand sanitizer. Among these are Pampanga Agricultural College and Mariano Marcos State University.

Potential income for farmers

Potential income for farmers is P51,820 per hectare over two croppings at a cane price of P1,600 per MT.

Using the sweet sorghum hybrid developed by the UPLB-Institute of Plant Breeding, cane yield can be at a higher 45 MT per hectare which can generate income of P45,000 per MT of cane per hectare .

The additional 3,000 kilos per hectare of seeds yield from this hybrid sweet sorghum can give P39,000 income at P13 per kilo. Combining seeds and cane income, it will generate P73,000 net income over two croppings from the seed and ratoon crop.

NSSP estimated that at a cane buying price of P1,500 per MT, sweet sorghum ethanol’s price will be at P54.71 per liter at a markup for bioethanol producers of P8 per liter.

This makes price comparable with crude oil-based fuel which at present is priced around P54-55 per liter in the market.

Potential income for ethanol distillers is P21.48 per liter for a cane buying price of P900 per MT. This income drops to P18.37 per liter for P1,000 per MTcane price, and further down to P15.25 per liter, P1,100 per MT; and P9.02 per liter, P1,300 per MT of cane.

Sweet sorghum processing into ethanol

Sweet sorghum syrup goes through the same milling and evaporation process as sugarcane.

A similar advantage as that in sugarcane, sweet sorghum bagasse produced can sustain the power and heat requirement for milling up to evaporation.

The NSSP has developed a combination of molasses, at 4.45 cubic meters (cu.m.) per hour, and sweet sorghum syrup, at 3.37 cu.m. per hour, as blended complementary feedstock to sugarcane for ethanol production.

Republic Act (RA) 9367 or the Biofuels Act of 2006 provides for financing of biofuel projects by government financial institutions. This includes LBP, DBP, and Quedan and Rural Credit Guarrantee Corp. It involves financing of at least 60 percent of capital stock of a bioethanol venture.

RA 9367 mandated blending of bioethanol with crude oil-based gasoline that started at five percent mix on Feb. 6, 2009 and 10 percent as of Feb. 6 this year.

A Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study projected that at a 15 percent ethanol mix with gasoline, the Philippines will be able to displace 645.79 million liters of imported gasoline by 2015.

A 20 percent mix by 2020 will enable crude oil-based fuel displacement by 1.043 billion liters; by 2025, 1.202 billion liters; and 2030, 1.34 billion liters.

Philippines’ ethanol capacity

The country currently has a total bioethanol capacity of 69 million liters per year (MLPY). This consists of the SCBI facility, 30 MLPY; Roxol Bioenergy Corp (RBC), Negros Occidental, 30 MLPY; and Leyte Agro-Industry Corp, nine MLPY.

Upcoming facilities will have an additional 204 MLPY capacity. This comes from Green Future Innovation Inc (GFII), Isabela 54 MLPY; Negros Biochem Corp, 120 MLPY; and Fuel Inc., Negros, 30 MLPY.

SCBI presently has a daily production of 100,000 to 125,000 liters of fuel-grade ethanol. Sugarcane required is 400,000 MT. One million liters of bioethanol is delivered to SCBI’s industrial buyer every 10 to 12 days.

RBC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Roxas Holdings Inc. uses molasses from their three sugar mills–Central Azucarera Don Pedro, Hawaiian Philippine Co., and Central Azucarera La Carlota.

GFII, which is in a preliminary operational stage, is using sugarcane as major feedstock and is also considering to use sweet as sorghum to supplement sugarcane.

More sweet sorghum trials

NSSP has sweet sorghum plantation trials in Sagay City, San Carlos, Bago, and Binalbagan, all in Negros Occidental. Collaborators in ethanol production and plantation trials are Biomass Resource Inc, SCBI, the local government of Sagay City, Negros Biochem Inc. and Fuel INC.

Validation trials showed that yield of stalk of sweet sorghum reached a high of 62 MT per hectare in Bago City from seed cropping, while ratoon cropping (second cropping offshoot from seed crop) yielded an even higher 88.2 MT per hectare.

The trial in San Carlos City had a lower stalk yield of 45.4 MT per hectare for the seed cropping and also lower 42.83 MT per hectare for the ratoon cropping.

Brix or sweetness level was higher in San Carlos City at 18.65 degrees while that in Bago was 16 degrees.

As brix level in sweet sorghum is important for ethanol productivity, ICRISAT reported that the variety SPV 422 recorded the highest brix at 19 degrees compared to other varieties whose brix was between 15 to18.5 degrees.

In order to raise brix level, an evaporation system is employed which can concentrate 10 to 11 degree brix to 60 to 65 degree brix syrup, said Demafelis.

There are more validation trials being conducted by the NSSP nationwide. These are in (Luzon) Pangasinan, Isabela, TArlac, and Pampanga. In Panay Island, these are in Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, Antique.

“The project targets to introduce the production of sweet sorghum in the Panay region through the use of marginal lands to increase farmers’ income and land productivity,” said Demafelis.

BAR is promoting interest in collaboration in sweet sorghum’s use as feedstock through the summit it has started since 2011.

For any questions, please call Engr. Rex B. Demafelis, 0919-265-1816; for interview requests, 0917-979-1629.