Thailand set to become regional bioenergy hub
Technology transfers to Asean in five years
Thailand has high potential to transfer biomass and biogas technology to other Asean members in the next five years, say industry experts.
With abundant biomass resources and the government's past success in promoting bioenergy, the country holds a strategic position in promoting biomass use throughout Asean, said Assoc Prof Sirintornthep Towprayoon, a bioenergy lecturer at King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT).
Sirintornthep: New crop varieties the key
"In my opinion, Thailand has developed its bioenergy science and technology almost to the point where we can soon transfer it to other Asean members, probably in the next five years," she said.
The country has significantly developed its biomass energy business cycle from upstream to downstream.
Thai farmers grow a lot of energy crops such as cassava, sugar cane and oil palm, while top agribusiness companies such as Mitr Phol Sugar Group encourage their contract farmers to improve agricultural varieties in a bid to have higher crop yields.
Assoc Prof Sirintornthep, who is also director of KMUTT's Joint Graduate School of Energy and the Environment, said improved varieties could provide up to double the yield of normal varieties.
For example, a sugar-cane variant with good agricultural management will produce higher quality and sweeter juice.
The fermentation of cane juice and molasses will produce ethanol, a clean, affordable and low-carbon biofuel.
Earlier this month, Mitr Phol said it would increase generating capacity this year at its biogas and ethanol plants in Kalasin province by 45 megawatts and 1.5 million litres, respectively.
Pichai Tinsuntisook, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries' renewable energy industry club, agrees about Thailand's potential for biomass.
"Thais are more interested in inventing new technologies than others in Asean," he said.
"The government has the most obvious renewable energy policy and acts as a stable buyer for most types of renewable energy."
The Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency Department reported biomass represented 73% of bioenergy consumption in 2012, biofuels 18%, biogas 8% and others 1%.
In 2012, the biomass potential in Thailand represented 16,812.88 kilotonnes of oil equivalent.
Of that, 9,231.82 ktoe came from solid biomass fuel or agricultural residues, 6,560.82 ktoe from biogas production and 1,020.24 ktoe from biofuel production.
The country has more than 20 million tonnes of unused biomass wood pellets per year, but there are problems related to the high cost of wood pellet collection.
"If the government provides more support to the bioenergy sector, we can export at least 5 million tonnes of biomass wood pellets a year," Mr Pichai said.
Biomass wood pellets are priced about US$150 a tonne.
Ms Sirintornthep said Thailand's competitive edge in renewable energy would rise greatly if Thailand can export biomass and biogas technology to other countries in the region in the near future.
"When we have bioenergy technologies of our own, the country's energy security will be lifted in the eyes of consumers and investors," she said.
Renewable energy businesses have developed many biomass conversion technologies to transform biomass into energy such as a combustion boiler and steam turbine, gasification and pyrolysis.
The department expects Thailand will generate 8,800 MW from bioenergy and heat 9,700 ktoe by 2021, while ethanol and biodiesel will be produced at 9 million and 7.2 million litres a day, respectively.
In 2012, electricity generated from bioenergy totalled 2,196 MW and heat 4,882 ktoe, while the production of ethanol and biodiesel was 1.4 million and 2.7 million litres a day, respectively.