Sugar Palm a Promising Sustainable Energy Solution
In Indonesia a large project will start, aiming to extract bio-energy from 1 million hectares of mixed sugar palm forests. Eco Integration is the name of this sugar palm project, that will soon start its activities.
In these sustainable forests, that will be spread all over the country and managed by local communities, sugar palms produce as much energy as half of the Netherlands’ need for gas and electricity. “Sugar palm trees have been planted with other shrubs and trees on totally degraded soils, and will produce 100 % sustainable energy,” according to forestry researcher Willie Smits, the architect of the sugar palm programme. “Rainforests and agricultural areas will remain intact,” he assures.
Smits set up a fund that will get a stock exchange quotation, and should collect 300 million euros. The fund will also finance sugar palm forests in other countries, such as Colombia and Tanzania. Through his Washington office secretariat, Dutch World Bank Executive Director Herman Wijffels has confirmed that from November onwards he will act as Special Advisor to this fund. Mr. Wijffels has announced to leave the World Bank in November of this year (2008).
Other than the oil palm, sugar palm trees produce sugar, which is derived from its flowering branches. By tapping the sugar via a special procedure, a fermentation process turns it into ethanol. “Without any problem, this ethanol can be mixed with petrol for cars,” Smits says.
Together with local Indonesian enterprises, Eco Integration will set up export and transport systems, with among other destinations the port of Rotterdam. “We are assured that part of the sustainably produced bio-ethanol will be processed in order to use it in Europe as fuel for the transportation sector,” says Smits.
Harvesting palm sugar Old picture of the sugar palm
Smits set up a satellite-based monitoring system that controls the forests and its local users for European bio fuel sustainability standards.
During the past one and a half year, there has been much criticism on biofuels from maize, wheat and sugar cane. They are often seen as competing with agricultural crops and contributing to the world food crisis.
Sugar palms do not cause such problems, Smits says. “The trees grow best on eroded hills and in combination with crops such as bamboo, vanilla, bananas and figs. The sugar palm uses not much water, needs no artificial manure and is six times as productive as sugar cane.”
[ translated from the Volkskrant ]