B10m allotted for biomass corn pellets
The Energy Conservation Fund has allocated 10 million baht to the Energy Ministry and Chiang Mai University (CMU) to study a pilot project to build a machine that produces corn pellets from biomass.
The machine would help eliminate waste generated from the corn-growing process, reduce pollution caused by burning after harvesting and help save energy, said Chatchawan Chaichana, assistant professor at CMU's Energy Technology for the Environment department.
Mae Chaem district of Chiang Mai province is one of Thailand's largest corn-growing areas, generating a huge amount of agricultural waste every year. Farmers normally get rid of this waste by burning, a major cause of annual smog.
The smog crisis in the area has become severe enough, the local government has banned corn burning during the dry season.
"We knew we could make biomass from waste generated by the corn production process. However, there was no support to encourage us to develop machinery until last year, when energy policymakers saw this technology and agreed to help us," he said.
Thailand is a world leader in biomass production, but most of the feedstock is rice husk, woodchip, bagasse, coconut shells and other fast-growing plants.
"No technology has been applied to produce pellets from corn waste, so energy policymakers decided to greenlight the project," said Asst Prof Chatchawan.
The first step is to study the potential for biomass made from corn waste, costing 4 million baht of the budget, while some 5 million would be spent for the second step of searching for possible pilot production.
"Although technology exists that could be imported, we want to create our own technology to build a locally made machine," he said.
The pellets can be made from corn waste, including the trunk and leaf, but the initial focus will be the cob.
A machine was designed to produce one tonne of pellets per hour. It is expected to be built by next month.
The machine is expected to be installed at the Mae Chaem Agricultural Cooperative office, which can lend human resources support and provide corn waste for the project.
Each year there is 112,000 tonnes of corn waste leading to 3.4 tonnes of airborne dust if burned as well as 24 tonnes of carbon monoxide, said Asst Prof Chatchawan.
After the pilot machine starts operation the study group will monitor and collect market data, including supply and demand for biomass.
Areepong Bhoocha-oom, permanent secretary for the Energy Ministry, said the ministry will allocate a budget to support commercial sales from a biomass production facility through a soft loan. The fund will support up to 30% project finance for those who switch to corn pellets, with a limit of 2 million baht per applicant, he said.