Cassava residue ethanol demo planned for Thailand

By Erin Voegele | December 26, 2012

The Japan-based New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization is launching a demonstration project in Thailand to produce ethanol from cassava residue obtained after starch extraction. The material is also known as tapioca residue.

The NEDO has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Innovation Agency of Thailand to develop the project, which is expected to extend through 2016.

According to information released by the NEDO, the project will be carried out at a pilot plant with an annual production capacity of 80 kiloliters (21,133 gallons). Information published by the NEDO specifies that the plant has the capacity to process 1,000 tons of cassava pulp per year. The facility is designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of using thermotolerant yeast developed in Japan to produce ethanol.

Thailand is the largest cassava starch exporter in the world, and a great deal of the cassava residue that results is discarded. The material contains residual starch and fiber, and is considered a “1.5 generation” biofuel feedstock.

According to the NEDO, the project will focus on the conversion of highly-concentrated and highly-viscous unrefined starch residue of cassava pulp into ethanol. The feedstock will be sourced from Thailand’s largest cassava starch manufacturing plant.

NEDO estimates that approximately 1.9 million tons of cassava residue produced in Thailand each year could be converted into 620,000 kiloliters of ethanol on an annual basis.

Data collected as a result of this demonstration project will be assessed and examined through Feb. 2016. Once the project is complete, the goal is to provide guidance to companies that generate cassava pulp, allowing them to construct and operate commercial facilities. Follow-up activities are also planned, including seminars on the use of thermotolerant yeast.

According to a USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Global Agricultural Information Network report on Thailand’s biofuel industry filed in mid-2012, six new cassava-based ethanol plants were expected to be completed within the country during 2012. The report specifies that two of those plants were expected to operate as export plants. By the end of the year, Thailand’s total ethanol production capacity was expected to reach 695 million liters (184 million gallons), including production from all feedstocks.

The GAIN report also points out that the use of cassava as an ethanol feedstock has been increasing in recent years. In 2011, 768,000 metric tons of cassava was used to produce ethanol. That number rose to 819,000 tons in 2012 and is forecast to reach 945,000 tons in 2013. The use of cassava feedstock was also high in 2009, when 925,000 metric tons were converted into ethanol.

The Thai Tapioca Starch Association estimates that nearly 27.55 million tons of cassava will be produced in Thailand during the 2012-’13 crop year. That is a 3.56 percent increase over the 26.6 million tons produced during 2011-’2012.