From grass to fuel is no pipe dream
Wilma Yamzon (The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Renewable energy experts have found a way to turn grass into fuel.

A perennial forming large bamboo-like clumps, bana grass can now be converted into fuel to produce energy, according to James Mackay of Mackay Green Energy (MGE).

Mackay and his group conducted a study on bana grass, which abounds in African countries such as Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The plant grows two to seven meters high along rivers and forests with more fertile soil.

“Once fermented, bana grass produces lactic acid and other valuable enzymes,” Mackay, chairman and CEO of MGE, explained.

Lactic acid is being used in the production of biodegradable plastic, car parts and high-value chemicals, he said.

Bana grass is a perennial hybrid variety (pennisetum purpureum X pennisetum americanum) that is highly tolerant to drought and typhoons, pest resistant and non-allergenic.

The study found that the grass has superior qualities to fossil-based coal and can be co-fired in existing coal power plants.

Mackay said his company has secured the world’s best technologies to enable the conversion of bana grass to green coal, enabling power plants to generate less greenhouse gas emissions.

“The gas from the bana grass is 60 percent methane. The methane will run the power plant and the byproduct is green coal,” Mackay said.

With the discovery of bana grass as an alternative source of energy, the MGE has announced plans to construct integrated-based plants in the country that would make green coal, gas, fuels and chemicals.

Launched in 2010, the MGE has created jobs for thousands of Filipinos as it aims to make the Philippines more environment-friendly in the next years.

“The company focuses on projects that would develop various renewable energy systems to efficiently convert biomass to energy and fuels,” said Mackay.

One such project is the bana crop now being exported by MGE to Japan and Korea from its 200-hectare farm in Zamboanga, he added.

This year, Mackay said MGE would expand its bana grass plantation in the country from 200 to 2,000 hectares, which would translate to 600 permanent and 3,000 indirect jobs. 

Plans are afoot for the installation of two 3-MW green coal power plants where bana grass will provide fuel. The plants will produce 100 tons of green coal daily.

“By then, biomass or green coal production will increase to supply both local and international markets, with the first production expected to be undertaken this year,” Mackay said.

At present, the Mackay-variety bana crop, initially imported from Australia, is supplied by MGE through its plantations in Butuan, Iloilo, Misamis Oriental, Negros, Nueva Ecija, Leyte, Rizal, Tuguegarao and Zamboanga.

The company has vowed to support the administration of President Duterte in its campaign to preserve and protect the environment.

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