Monday, October 13, 2008

Land and feedstock requirements and availability

Once touted as one of the world's alternatives to fossil fuels, biofuels have come under scrutuny for its role in mitigating climate change, promoting deforestation and diverting agricultural land from food production. Recently articles in the media has reported that large-scale biofuel production is affecting poor people's access to land in African countries, in Asia and the Pacific region, where farmers in places such as India, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea are suffering.

Critics argue that biofuels are not sustainable and that they have inflated global food prices. Supporters say biofuels are one of the most viable choice of sustainable energy alternative and that they are being unfairly blamed for the world food crisis.The report (, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that biofuel production can allow poor groups to increase their access to land and improve their livelihoods if the right policies are in place. It points out that all biofuels are not equal and recommends policies that would increase the social benefits biofuels production can bring to the rural poor in developing countries.

In the context of the pacific Island Countries, biofuel development ranges from small scale production to that of large scale production and the impacts on the scale of biofuel development in respective island country varies according to their own set of challengers.

The following are a set of questions we would appreciate if you could share your views based on what you think is the current occurence or situation of biofuel development on land and feedstock requirements and availability in your area/country. You can simply comment through this blogsite or send your views by email to

Question 1: what is the current situation and interest in Biofuel Development in your country?

Question 2: Your view on the availabitiy and viability of potential identified feedstock for biofuel production in your country?

Question 3: Your opinion on the suitability and availability of land for Biofuel development?

Summary of Answers for the first set of Questions:

The following is a summary of views and opinions for the first set of question from 5 Pacific island countries on the status of biofuel development and the availability of land and feedstock requirement.

Up till now, the current scenario and interest in biofuel development at the national level in Pacific Island countries are mostly under feasibility studies and are in plans and proposal stages. Much interest lies in the production of biofuels to run diesel engines for power productions. In Fiji there has been a community based project in early 2000 using coconut oil to run a diesel generator for power production. At this stage the status on the progress in running the generator with coconut oil has been abandoned due to mechanical problems. In Kiribati, there is proposal to undertake a feasibility study in using copra oil for power generation and to have exposure visits from engineers in the RMI and Vanuatu. For Samoa, interest and experience in biofuel development is majorly undertaken in the power utility where trials have been carried out in 2005. In addition, there is huge potential and interest in place for the production of coconut oil in the order of 3 million litres a year for power generation in the Island of Savaii. Solomon Islands on the other hand have no working strategies in place for biofuels but are interested in developing biofuel for power production as complementary projects to other alternative energy technology such as Hydro power and Solar power. In Vanuatu, there have been extensive trials in place in using coconut oil for power production. Unelco, the main power producing company in Vanuatu is currently running on 25% coconut oil for power production. In addition there are also 4 community based biofuel projects on the ground where one is currently operating at 100% coconut oil.

In addition to developing biofuel for power generation, there is interest also in producing biofuel for land transport in Pacific Island countries where trials have been carried out in Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu to run cars on coconut oil biofuels. Also for the past months, Fiji has been actively involved in the planning for the construction of a large ethanol production facility that is capable of producing 50 000 tonnes of ethanol a year which could supply fuel for cars that run on petrol.

Apart from the government initiated biofuel projects in Pacific island countries, there exist increasing involvement and investment from the private sector in a number of biofuel production facilities in Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. For Fiji, Herbex limited, a privately owned company has been producing biodiesel from waste vegetable oils. In Samoa there is a private supplier that is selling small coconut oil (CNO) volumes for use in diesel vehicle engines at 80/20 CNO/kerosene. In Solomon Islands, the company Solomon Tropical Products produces coconut oil in a large scale and is very interested and committed to the development of biofuel. In addition, there are also companies available in Pacific Island countries that sell oil milling equipments and biofuel blending units as in the case of Biodiesel (Pacific) Limited in Fiji.

Raising awareness activities and involving government commitment to biofuel projects in Pacific island countries is prominent in Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu. In Fiji, for the recent months there has been growing awareness to all levels of the population about governments’ involvement in the establishing of an ethanol production facility. In Samoa, there is currently a biofuel scoping research with funding from UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to perform a detailed scoping study of agricultural biofuel potential in Samoa. For Vanuatu, awareness on biofuel activities is raised at all levels of the community with on the ground projects in place.

Despite the progress in biofuel activities in pacific island countries, much is not known on the current status of available land and feedstock capacity at a regional context. With regards to feed stocks, it was noticed that the 5 pacific island countries identified coconut oil as the main source of feedstock that is viable for biofuel development. In the case of Fiji, coconut oil for biofuel production is mainly feasible for outer islands due to transportation problems. This is also reflected in Kiribati. Copra for coconut oil production in Samoa is one of interest considering the current state of the collapsed copra industry leaving opportunities for biofuel development activities as a suitable replacement for the coconut industry. For the Solomon Islands, interest in using coconut oil for biofuel development carry’s a lot of potential considering that there is enough copra feedstock’s to produce 45,000 MT of coconut oil per annum.

Despite this interest and involvement in coconut oil for biofuel activities, an issue need addressing is the current high prices of copra which is more favoured over biofuel production activities. This is an issue of concern from Fiji, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.

Other feedstock of interest for biofuel projects include Jatropha considering its capability to grow in arid and waste land. Countries that find interest in Jatropha include Fiji, Kiribati and Samoa. In Fiji, interest in Jatropha is on a small scale and one that is being pursued by Herbex Ltd targeting waste and idle lands in the western side of Viti Levu. However there is more interest from the government to undertake large scale ethanol production from Cassava and Molasses. In Kiribati, a pamphlet was submitted to the Agricultural ministry for consideration regarding exploring the use of jatropha on available unused land. In Samoa a private sector party obtained a land lease and government approval for starting a Jatropha biodiesel plant on Savaii Island, but no development has yet taken place. In addition to Jatropha, Samoa has also carried out lab-based trials for producing ethanol from breadfruit and will possibly be seeing additional feedstock for biofuel projects after obtaining recommendations from the biofuel scoping report. For the Solomon Islands, apart from coconut oils, there is large scale production of crude palm oil which is possibly an area of interest for developing biofuel projects from waste palm oil.

In terms of Land availability for biofuel activities, Pacific island countries in general are mainly divided between the volcanic islands and the atoll islands. For the volcanic island countries as in the case of Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, there is abundant of land available to explore opportunities for biofuel development. In Fiji, there is more than sufficient land to cater for all proposed biofuel projects in the pipe line but an area need sorting and settling is the issue of land ownership and leases, land rehabilitation and management programmes. For Samoa, since the collapse of the copra industry, the existing coconut farms are more than sufficient to cater for biofuel development hence the need in exploiting forest land for biofuel development is not required. In the Solomon Islands by estimation there are hectares of logged out land running to the 1000s that can be looked in to for biofuel development opportunities but at present, the current coconut plantation is sufficient for use in biofuel production as biofuel development projects are seen as small scale and complementary to hydro and solar projects. In Vanuatu, at the current statistics, coconut tree plantations available are abundant to produce adequate oil for the nation.

For atoll island countries such as Kiribati, land scarcity is a problem, but there exist unused land which can be used for biofuel development. One such case is the area where coconut trees can not grow. This land could be utilised for biofuel projects such as creating jatropha plantations. In addition the existing coconut plantations in outer islands are sufficient for biofuel projects considering a lot of copra are wasted annually due to transportation problems of copra to Tarawa.

Note: If you are interested to further add some comments on land and feedstock requirement for Bio fuel Development, please do send an email to or simply comment through this blog site.

1 comment:

Frank said...

Please allow me to say much of what you wrote is correct, but some simplifies the matter of Bio Fuel.

I.e. "...50 000 tonnes of ethanol a year which could supply fuel for cars that run on petrol. "

This is not so easy. Do you know of any car in Fiji that could run on ethanol right now?

The big ethanol production is not for Fiji, it is purely for export, or did I miss something.

To run a car on ethanol it must be converted. Most of our petrol cars would need an expensive conversion. The most likely scenario could be a blend of little ethanol and much petrol then you can get away without conversion, but there is still an adjustment for the ignition timing to be done.

The distribution network is another thing that needs to be looked at.

On the coconut / Jatropha side of things you could perhaps mention Castor oil, there is plenty and it is easier to grow than Jatropha. It could be planted between Jatropha and would give oil in the first and second year when Jatropha does not give seeds.