Collaboration on cassava-based ethanol

Thailand has teamed up with neighbouring countries to develop ethanol from fresh cassava, aiming to turn the kingdom into a regional technology and production centre for cassava-based renewable fuel.

Under a programme called South-South Technology Transfer: Ethanol Production from Cassava, which is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GIF), Thailand will be a focal point in forging cooperation with Vietnam, Laos, and Burma.

The four-year project, which will be launched next year, includes two pilot ethanol plants to be built in Thailand and Vietnam. The facilities could be developed for commercial-scale production in the next phase through a partnership with interested investors and banks.

The Thai pilot project will be located at an alcohol production plant of the Liquor Distillery Organisation (LDO) in Bang Khla, Chachoengsao, to produce ethanol from fresh cassava between 2012 and 2013. Next month it will test ethanol production from tapioca chips, and it has produced molasses-based ethanol in the past.

"The main problem for ethanol production in Thailand now is the relatively high cost of raw materials, as the price of molasses is increasing," said LDO director Ittithep Visessmit.

Tapioca chips are now priced at seven baht per kilogramme, compared to three baht per kg for fresh cassava, which also generates a higher yield for ethanol production.

"Once we can produce ethanol from fresh cassava, we will contract with farmers to lower the cost of raw materials," he added.

The pilot plant in Hanoi will be operated between 2013 and 2014 with capacity of 50 litres a day of E100, less than the 200 litres at the Thai plant, said the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, a partner in this project.

The National Science and Technology Development Agency will receive 80 million baht from GIF to help with technology transfer to neighbouring countries, as Thailand is more advanced in this area.

Thailand is the world's largest exporter of tapioca products, with annual production of 25-30 million tonnes.

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