Author: Marimi Kishimoto

Source: asia.nikkei.com

Thailand, an agricultural powerhouse, is promoting the use of biogas in an attempt to cut down on pollutants.

The Thai government is looking to biogas, a widely available fuel extracted from organic waste, to help it reach a goal — raising the share of renewable energy sources in the country’s overall final energy consumption to 30% by 2036.

Agriculture of Basin, a Thai palm oil maker, and Japan’s Osaka Gas have started a joint project to refine biogas for use as a vehicle fuel.

In a ceremony to kick off the project, held in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Somnuek Ketchart, the Thai company’s president, said the idea is to establish a technology to turn biogas generated from process residues into a fuel that can be sold to drivers.

Agriculture of Basin has installed a facility to refine biogas as well as a natural gas station within the premises of its palm oil production factory.

Organic matter in the factory’s wastewater is fermented to generate biogas, which then is refined into methane.

A test run began in September, and formal commercial-scale operations got underway in November.

The refining system, which has been developed by Osaka Gas, is based on an original combination — conventional pressure swing absorption technology and gas separation membranes.

The system, which can extract 99% of the methane contained in biogas, is among the most efficient of its kind, according to Osaka Gas.

In the trial run, an annual 1.2 million cu. meters of methane will be produced. The methane is to be used as fuel for natural gas-powered vehicles. This is enough natural gas to power 15 large trucks, according to the utility.

The project is receiving strong support from Thailand’s government, which has provided over 40% of the 35 million baht ($1.06 million) the Thai company has spent building the natural gas station.

The government’s clean energy campaign is driven by growing concerns about the country’s heavy dependence on imported energy.

Thailand uses imports for over 40% of its energy needs, according to the International Energy Agency.

The government views biomethane as an important energy source that can help the country wean itself off its reliance on imports, a top official at the Ministry of Energy said at the ceremony.

With concerns growing about the depletion of domestic natural gas reserves, the principal source of electricity in Thailand, the government is keen to develop new sources of energy.

After the pilot project — meant to establish the reliability of a system to refine biogas into methane — the plan is to begin sales in fiscal 2018.

When the biogas refining operation enters this eventual commercial stage, the amount of methane being produced will be two or three times current levels, an Osaka Gas executive said.

Agriculture is a key industry in Thailand, where 40% of the working population is engaged in farming.

Large amounts of crops that can serve as biogas sources already grow in the country, including cassava, a root vegetable used to make tapioca; sugar cane; and oil palm.

The government is trying to capitalize on this abundance to realize its easier-on-the-environment energy agenda.

“Thailand produces massive agricultural crop residues and has a cultural tradition of using such residues as resources,” said Kota Yokoyama, a manager at Osaka Gas. The country “has a lot of potential to harness biogas.”

Wastewater from the palm oil factory is a convenient source of biogas, Yokoyama said.

In Thailand, other Japanese companies, including trading house Toyota Tsusho, are already working to generate power from biogas. And the country will see more biogas projects in the coming years as the government strives to reach its 2036 target.