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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thai Plant Makes Power From Waste

KALASIN, Thailand -- For the Mitr Kalasin Sugar plant in northeast Thailand, sugar-cane residue that was once considered refuse now represents power, money and the future.

The company burns the sugarcane grist, known as bagasse, to generate electricity, helping it run machinery and provide power to neighboring villages. The process has been so successful that Mitr Kalasin is buying other industrial waste.

The sugar miller buys wood chips, rice husks and bran to fuel its power generator, which supplies electricity to people in a 50 kilometer radius of the plant. "This biomass power generation technology has helped tackle our problems, from wastefully burning the unwanted bagasse to cutting energy costs," says Mitr Phol president Isara Vongkusolkit.

Mitr Phol is Thailand's largest sugar producer and owns Mitr Kalasin.

Mitr Kalasin, 520 kilometers from Bangkok, is one of several dozen small Thai factories plugged into an official drive to encourage use of waste for commercially viable electricity production.

Thailand, a net importer of energy, has been stepping up measures to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels and meet rising demand for power.

But while energy agencies are diversifying sources to maintain the country's power reserves, local people are increasingly vocal in opposition to power projects that could harm the environment.

Biological fuels, energy agencies say, will go a long way to promoting diversification, without adding to pollution.

Apart from sugar waste, the authorities have been promoting other biomass fuels including rice husks, rice bran, paddy hay, wood chips and the dung from pigs and even humans.

"We don't want to be heavily dependent on one specific source of fuel," says Piyasvasti Amranand, head of the National Energy Policy Office.

Natural gas has become the largest source of fuel, accounting for up to 70 percent of electricity generation, according to the energy policy office.

Piyasvasti says the agency wants to cap the gas portion at the current level and diversify into other fuel sources.

The office projects a steady rise of power demand by 1,300 megawatts a year over the next 15 years from 16,126 MW last year.

It estimates Thailand could save almost 5,100 billion tons of crude equivalent per year if its alternative fuel scheme were implemented effectively over the next decade.

Thailand started deregulating its power industry in 1996, allowing private producers to sell power to the state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to loosen its financial burden on investment expansion.

Private producers are categorised into Independent Power Producers with capacity more than 90 megawatts and Small Power Producers with capacity less than 90 megawatts.

SPPs with biomass and renewable technology are gaining favor from the government, which has pledged to buy an unlimited amount of electricity produced from waste.

Last year, Mitr Phol supplied about 100 million units of power to EGAT.

The group started a self-sufficient power scheme nine years ago by using steam power, generated by burning bagasse to heat water. Last year, it made about 300 million baht ($6.93 million) from power sales, equivalent to about 3 percent of its 10 billion baht of sugar sales.

"Our business can't depend only on global sugar prices. We need to seek ways to cut production costs and increase revenues," says Mitr Phol's Isara.