GE Technology makes grass a greener source of gas

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - In most parts of the country, grass is cultivated as a means to feed livestock. In Pampanga, farmers are planting Napier grass to fuel a revolutionary move towards renewable energy.

The Napier grass, currently being developed under the auspices of Bacolor Mayor Jomar Hizon, was also originally planted for forage, he revealed recently during a meeting with GE.

“The Super Napier grass or Pakchong from Thailand has higher crude protein than other varieties, which is why we were interested in it. It was by coincidence that we met with West Stewart, managing director of Advanced Energy Technologies who told us about how this type of grass can also be used in a power plant.”

He explains the far-reaching benefits of the project: “Everything needed is on-hand. Our processed meat factory, Pampanga’s Best, needs lower cost electricity. We have enough land to plant in my town, and this project will be able to augment people’s livelihood,” the mayor said when he recently signed a memorandum of agreement with Stewart and Jocot de Dios, chief executive of GE Philippines, to formalize the building of a power plant that uses Super Napier Grass as its fuel for the project with Pampanga’s Best.

Power crop

Stewart discussed the process that turns grass into green energy. “The way we are going to do it, is to gasify Super Napier Grass using GE’s integrated biomass gasification solution, which is an upgrade of traditional (gasifier) technology. We take the crop, cook it at ultra high heat, and process the syngas that comes out. 

This product is a good, pure gas that fuels a GE Jenbacher reciprocating engine, one of the world’s most efficient power generators. Every part of the grass is utilized – it is used as fuel for power. By-products include bio-char, that, along with the ash, can go back to the farmers to be used on the land. The electricity generated by the Gasifier power plant project will be clean-burning. This indeed will be the first of its kind in the country.”

With this technology, 60 hectares of Super Napier Grass would yield one megawatt of power 24 hours a day. This, Stewart says, can be the answer to areas in the Philippines that are experiencing power shortages. “The Philippines is a very appropriate place for a project such as this, where we have farmers in one community, and a power plant a few kilometers away that can provide up to perhaps 10 megawatts. They can sell the power locally for power, or sell regionally through the National Grid. This will help solve critical supply problems throughout the island electric grids in areas such as Mindanao.”

West reveals that there will be similar projects in Bukidnon and Negros, and they are expecting the Pampanga project to be operational in less than a year’s time.

Alternatives for public and private entities

GE is at the forefront of finding solutions for renewable energy. Today, it is a leading provider of wind turbines, solar power inverters and gas engines for waste to energy projects globally. “With the technology transfer we are formalizing with Mayor Hizon, we have here an ideal situation where the end user is able to grow the feedstock and fuel needed to generate power for their own use in their food processing facilities. This can be replicated in other areas in the country. We believe that in an island grid such as ours, and in a land where feedstock for biomass gasification can grow well, the opportunities will be significant,” says John Alcordo, GE’s regional general manager for distributed power in ASEAN.

He adds that projects like this will also help fuel the country towards the coming ASEAN Integration in 2015. “Many times, it is all about the feedstock and sourcing this reliably and at the most cost-effective points,” he explains.

“Having more of these type of projects spread across the region will drive business to develop feedstock with higher yield and lower cost in various sites, giving these power generation projects more options to choose fuel from. This in turn will have a positive ripple effect, creating more employment, more investment opportunities while reducing the cost of power in many areas all at the same time.”

Alcordo also talks about the role of GE in promoting clean energy in countries such as the Philippines, and why more LGUs and private entities should look into alternative such as these: “As technology providers, we are able to guide our customers on a number of areas related to these projects from equipment configuration, operations and maintenance and equipment financing. Tapping into renewable energy has been proven time and again in many circumstances to not only be good for the environment, but beneficial to the business itself from a cost standpoint.  It is too significant an opportunity to be ignored.”

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