Viaspace Green Energy Eyes Giant Grass for Thai Biomass Fuel

US-based Viaspace Green Energy signed a memorandum of understanding January 17 with Thailand’s Seema Energy to grow its proprietary Giant King Grass for the Thai company’s proposed 90MW biomass plant.

Giant King Grass – which has similar characteristics to sugar cane and reaches four-meters-tall – is the highest-yielding biomass crop in the world, the company claims.

The Seema Energy plant , in the country’s northeast, is expected to come into operation in 2014. Under the agreement, Viaspace would grow up to 930,000 tonnes of Giant King Grass a year to fuel the 90MW facility, creating 2,000 jobs for local farmers.

Seema director Pongchat Limvichit says the project “paves the way for Thailand to access a domestically developed and grown energy source, and provide an energy hedge against increasingly volatile conventional commodities such as gas and coal.

“This is especially important for Thailand, which faces difficulties in developing conventional energy projects – in particular coal-fired power plants,” he adds.

The joint venture will see a trial plot cultivated, followed by a two-hectare testing facility to analyze Giant King Grass grown in the tropical Thai climate.

Viaspace is confident the crop will grow well in Thailand after favourable yields at a 110 hectare plot in China.

More than a million Giant King Grass seedlings planted in Guangdong Province in October 2008 are now two-meter-tall plants.

The company says it may do better in Thailand, where irrigation can lead to a full 12-month growing season.

The Thai government has shown itself well disposed towards biomass and the potential jobs that accompany the growing of crops for the energy source.

The government has set a target of 3.7GW of biomass capacity by 2022. Only 1.7GW has been awarded so far, with only a fraction of this capacity actually in operation. Its cabinet has approved a move to a new feed-in tariff (FIT) regime with a priority to promote biomass generation.

Carl Kukkonen, chief executive of Viaspace, expects Thailand’s new FIT to support energy crops such as Giant King Grass.

“Biomass provides jobs, and instead of sending money overseas to import coal or natural gas they would be spending it internally on their farmers,” Kukkonen says. “We expect energy crops will be treated well in what we expect to be aggressive policy revisions,” he adds.

Kukkonen estimates power generated from King Grass-derived pellets is on average 20 percent more expensive than coal in the 35MW range, but is significantly cheaper than solar. He claims the latter source “will certainly give Thailand electricity, but the government looks at it and says ‘solar doesn’t create jobs or local income’”.

Viaspace in February 2011 formed a joint venture with General Biofuels of the US, under which the two companies agreed to explore the development of a large Giant King Grass plantation to feed pellet production for export to the European market.

Source: Viaspace Green Energy

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