Tuesday, March 2, 2010

[PBN] Solomon Island tropical products goes into biodiesel

From: SOL – BIO DIESEL: SOL/STAR                                                                                     PACNEWS BIZ: Mon 01 March 2010


Solomon Island tropical products goes into biodiesel


01 MARCH 2010 HONIARA (SOLOMON STAR) -----A local company, the Solomon Tropical Products (STP), is commercially producing coconut biodiesel starting this month.


STP has been operating in the Solomon Islands for over 15 years and is the largest coconut oil (CNO) producer and exporter, with capacity to crush a third of the country's total copra export or the capacity of 500 copra bags a day.

The recent move will surely revolutionise the way Solomon Islanders view liquid fuels and as more people become familiar with biodiesel, there are positive benefits for the country.

Coconut biodiesel is produced from CNO via a process called 'trans-esterification'.

It is renewable, environmentally friendly and clean fuel.

Studies show a 100% reduction in net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and a 50% reduction in carbon monoxide (CO) for example.

It biodegrades four times faster than petro-diesel, and is non-toxic meaning any spillages both on the sea or land is in effect harmless.

It can be used readily in any diesel engine without modification, and readily mixes with petro-diesel, enhancing its lubricity.

Five years ago, STP started trialing bio-fuels on engines, with a CNO/Kerosene blend appropriately termed, 'cocolene'.

It worked, but the high viscosity of CNO meant that modifications on engines were required to maintain the fluidity of CNO.

In biodiesel, this viscosity is reduced by the removal of the thickening component of CNO which is glycerine, and STP trials this year have proven the fuel (100% neat coconut biodiesel) to work, in vehicles, generators and even the company's shipping vessel, the 'MV Tafusibata' that just recently returned from the Weathercoast with more than 263 gallons of the fuel on board.

Commodities Export Marketing Authority (CEMA) statistics tell us that on average Solomon Islands' copra production capacity is around 30,000 metric tonne a year.

Company insiders believe the potential production capacity can go up to 45,000 metric tonne given the challenges copra farmers have to face in terms of its laborious nature, fluctuations in world price, high freight costs and unreliable shipping schedules into Honiara from other provinces.

At 30000MT, according to a study carried out by STP on November 2008 as a directive for a cabinet brief on "coconut biodiesel as a mechanism for the rehabilitation of copra in the Solomon Islands" through the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) that was never taken up, the potential volume of biodiesel available for the country could be over 10,000,000L, or in monetary terms at $8.77/L of diesel currently sold in town, $8.77 million/year of 'import substitution' revenue at least generated from coconut biodiesel.

Solomon Islands total fuel import, according to obtained Energy Department, Ministry of Energy, Mines and Rural Electrification (MEMR) documents, is around 4,000,000L, a big portion of which is diesel fuel.

Fuel comprises 70% of the country's import expenses, and in recent years has been the instigator of inflation rate hikes, like the 23% rate in 2008 (CBSI Annual Report 2008).

To further appreciate the numbers, if Solomon Islands at current capacity were to turn all its copra into biodiesel, it would produce three times the volume of our total fuel import in one year, probably enough to supply the country's diesel needs for the next 4-5 years.

Literally, it would take care of all of SIEA's diesel needs, who consume about 51% of our total fuel import.

STP is adamant that its coconut biodiesel will always be sold cheaper than petro-diesel, at least the bowser price at this stage, irrespective of the critics who say it can't.

STP currently offers for its B100 (neat coconut biodiesel 100%) $7.67/L for bulk orders, $8.27/L at the bowser and is also selling a blend, B20, which is 80% petro-diesel and 20% coconut biodiesel) for $8.30/L.

The company is even prepared to offer to clients, warranty for any fuel related problems if using their fuel but have no doubts that any vehicle will fail.

Already some companies have expressed interest, and STP management hopes to have its clients monitored while using their fuel.

For STP, it's not just about business, the objective is having a product that really works as they believe they have.

The challenge STP believes is the psychological barrier that they know exist when people start thinking about using coconut biodiesel.

"Many people immediately think coconut oil when you say coconut biodiesel, that's incorrect," says Production and Technical Manager Francis Kapini, who has dedicated over two years coming up with the product and heads the company's biodiesel program.

"When you go to the refilling station you don't get refilled with oil, but you refill with diesel or petrol though both fuels are refined from crude oil.

"It's the same thing, coconut biodiesel is diesel made from coconut oil," Mr Kapini adds.

STP says that they are prepared to talk it over with anyone who is interested before they use the fuel.

In a secluded, 'no-go' part of its Ranadi area, the batch processor that is fulfilling this reality is a 500L/batch, self-designed, self-built, button-controlled and impressive looking  equipment.

The whole yard is set-up in a way that copra brought from rural farmers will be fed in the line and biodiesel will come out as the final product.

STP wants the government to come on board its program.

As a private sector body, the partnership is quite crucial if the full benefits are to be realised for the country. 

So far this has been slow and frustrating for the company at times.

The Energy department doesn't come around that often to talk with STP about this development and recently SIEA terminated an agreement with STP in co-generation of power, where the company was using coconut biodiesel in their genset (350KVa) and putting on SIEA grid, a model that had high potentials for rural electrification in the country but also solutions for the frequent power shedding we have in Honiara.

There is no formal policy or legislation as yet for the utilisation of renewable fuels or energy in the country, something STP has been campaigning hard for from government in partnership with private sectors to do.

If things are to be done by the books then the appropriate policies, legislations and acts have to exist.

Surprisingly, coconut fuel in particular is not even priority renewable energy, compared to others such as the solar or hydro.

Despite the absence of necessary ratifications by government, solar enterprises for example are cashing in big time though.

This is because renewable energy (RE) in this country has so far been about what RE technology foreign companies can sell in the disguise of 'donor aid', without proper studies being done on their practicality in our context, affordability to rural people, sustainability in the long term, supply capacity or needless to say any energy life cycle analysis so as to justify the basis for which they are promoted, as environmentally friendly energy, something that STP has committed a lot finances into to ensure that the product that they have for the public is genuine.

The people of the country are far more important than the bureaucratic challenges that exist and the push for full utilisation of coconut biodiesel in Solomon Islands cannot be ignored.

This coconut biodiesel project is about the potential of the country to be self-reliant and to be energy independent to some degree.

Not a single cent will be leaving this country, something company manager, John Vollrath is proud of.

STP's biodiesel program is line with the country's MEMR National Energy Policy Framework, MAL's Agriculture Sector Policy 2008-2020, Ministry of Environment's call for adaptation measures against climate change, and the government's announcement to cease copra exports by December 2010 as a mechanism to revitalise our copra industry. 

Coconut biodiesel will reduce our dependency on imported fuel, create import substitution revenue, provide employment, has potential to electrify rural areas in a big way, reduce pollutant emissions in our atmosphere and proudly will be produced in the Solomon Islands.

Coconut biodiesel can change the transportation sector of this country forever, and one of the first impressions motorists will notice about neat biodiesel is the absence of soot (black smoke due to incomplete combustion of fossil fuel) that is pouring on our city roads everyday from vehicle exhausts.

STP is pleased to have the project underway and has already made plans to upgrade its biodiesel program to a bigger capacity.

The company is also converting a 20-foot container into its "Center for Biofuel Research and Advancement" laboratory and says its next project is going to be outboard motor biofuel.

"We are prepared to blow-up a whole engine if we have to in our next project," remarks Mr Kapini.

"When you work in an environment where 90% of the work ethic is passion and 10% is wages and salary, any thing is possible," Mr Kapini adds.

"There are few frustrations, but I know we will not fail," he says.

The potentials for biodiesel production are endless for Solomon Islands, when we start thinking about palm oil biodiesel, Jatropha biodiesel that are already established crops in our country.

Biodiesel investment would be the most innovative scheme this country can put its money into, especially current and future governments and for this time, STP is only proud to be leading the way.

Staff of Solomon Tropical Products at their Ranadi plant, east Honiara. …PNS (ENDS)


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