Firm eyes napier plantations in South Cotabato for biofuels

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/30 September) — Fruit giant Dole Philippines Inc. (Dolefil) is planning to develop plantations for napier grass in parts of South Cotabato province as it moves to diversify into biofuels production.

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said the company is currently evaluating potential sites within the province’s 10 towns and lone city for the planting of napier grass, which would later be utilized for its planned biofuels plant.

She said among the areas being considered for the project are idle and underutilized lands in the upland areas.

The governor met with Dolefil representatives last week to discuss the project and explore possible collaborations with the local government.

“They’re still at the exploratory stage right now and they want to establish or identify first the viable plantation sites,” she told MindaNews in an interview.

Citing their discussions, Fuentes said napier grass was considered a viable input for biofuels production as it practically grows anywhere.

She said the massive planting of napier grass, which has sturdy root system, could also help upland or mountainous areas in terms of preventing soil erosion and improving soil fertility.

Fuentes instructed company to consult and seek assistance regarding the project’s requirements with the office of the provincial agriculturist.

But she initially signified to provide assistance to the company in terms of ensuring security and proper road access to the potential plantation sites.

Napier (Pennisetum purpureum) is a perennial high-yielding tropical grass that can be harvested in three or four months.

It has low water and nutrient requirements, and therefore can make use of otherwise uncultivated lands.

It has been used primarily for cattle grazing but studies showed that it could be utilized for pest management, firebreaks, windbreaks, and for paper pulp, bio-oil and biogas production.

Early this year, Thailand shifted its attention to napier grass as input for its biogas power generation project.

Japanese firm Toyota has been working on creating a bioethanol fuel for automobiles from napier grass and is reportedly targeting to commercialize the technology by the year 2020.

Dolefil, which is now owned by Japanese trading giant Itochu Corp., and Toyota Tsusho Corp. of Japan signed an agreement with the Philippine National Oil Company-Alternative Fuels Corp. for a collaboration and cooperation on biofuels.

The cooperation involves research development, commercial development, and supply and marketing of biofuels in the country. (MindaNews)