Researchers eye rice straw as renewable energy source

By Anna Valmero

MUÑOZ, NUEVA ECIJA—Aside from sweet sorghum and sugar cane, local researchers are turning to rice straw as a potential source for generating sustainable energy in the country.

The Philippines was cited as producing 15.2 million tons of rice that leave behind 11.3 million tons of rice straw a year. Often, farmers burn the rice straw in the open field for lack of better use.

To convert this waste into energy fuel, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) signed an agreement with French company Enertime to assess the feasibility of using rice straw for power generation, which could help farmers reduce post-harvest waste and production cost.

“The cost of petroleum is increasing. So it’s important to develop a new energy system that will serve as an alternative to the non-renewable systems. That means utilizing local sources of energy,” said PhilRice executive director Eufemio T. Rasco Jr.

To minimize the post-harvest waste, the two-year collaboration will explore the possibility of collecting, transporting, and conditioning rice straw as feedstock or raw material in generating electricity.

The initiative is a part of a bigger project that aims to use of rice straw as fuel to generate electricity using organic rankine cycle technology in the Philippines.

Some 10,000 tons of rice straw will be collected from the major rice-producing provinces of Nueva Ecija and Laguna.

For its part, Enertime, a specialist on energy production using renewable resources, will finance the feasibility study once funds are granted by the French Economic Ministry’s Fund for Studies and Private Sector Support Program.

The company will assess the biomass supply and estimate power plant cost, as well as help find project investors.

PhilRice, meanwhile, will provide rice production data and technical support in collecting and transporting rice straw, and help validate sites feasible for biomass energy production.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) are also part of this project. IRRI will lead the study on biomass supply organization and greenhouse gas mitigation analysis while UPLB will collect power plant site data and layout for the project.

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