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Feb. 23--Fernando Martinez, Eastern Petroleum chairman, said that the company is now on its second year of propagating the crop, which would be used as a feedstock for biofuel.

"We started with around 300 hectares harvested. Now we are planting 1,000 hectares. The rate of multiplication is three to five times. We need 10,000 hectares to process it for ethanol," he said.

Ethanol is a high-octane, water-free alcohol that can be used as a gasoline substitute. The alternative fuel is produced from sugar cane and other crops such as corn, cassava, sweet sorghum.

Eastern Petroleum, which is primarily into the retail petroleum business, has a number of cassava plantations nationwide including Zambales in Luzon and General Santos City and Saranggani province in Mindanao.

The oil firm's entry into feedstock development was brought about by the passage of the Biofuels Act of 2006, which mandated all engine fuels to have a minimum blend of biofuels to be derived from indigenous crops.

Because of this, energy consultancy firm Merritt Partners reported last year that domestic demand for ethanol would reach more than 300 million liters this year. This is expected to rise to 664 million liters by 2011 and 713 million liters by 2013.

At present, however, only two ethanol plants using sugarcane as feedstock with a capacity of less than 50 million liters per year have been put up by the private sector to feed oil firms' demand, forcing most of them to import their supply.

The Eastern Petroleum official said that once the oil firm's target is reached, it would be able to produce enough ethanol to supply local biofuel requirements.

"We need 10,000 hectares to process it for ethanol . . . not only for Eastern, it is more than enough for us. That's good for 30 million liters," he said.

Martinez added that the company has already completed studies for its plan to put up ethanol plants that will process cassava into the alternative fuel.

Initially, Eastern Petroleum is eying to put up a facility with a 100,000-liter capacity, which is projected to cost about $25 million.

Martinez said that the company is open to possible partnerships with other investors for its proposed ethanol processing plant.

"We are open to other parties. We have done complete studies and we are now in the feasibility preparation stage for the ethanol plant itself," he said.

Source: The Manilla Times
trackingBy Euan Paulo C. Anonuevo, The Manila Times, Philippines

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