The expansion of plantations supplying the raw materials for biofuels should not come at the expense of food production, an international conference on biofuel was told on Thursday.
Connie Lo, a senior consultant at Nexant Asia, said that the use of nonfood feedstocks for biofuel production would improve both food and energy security. Among the most suitable sources of biofuels were jatropha or physic nut, a hardy plant that is drought- and pest-resistant; sweet sorghum; and marine algae.
“So far, jatropha is widely cultivated in India, China and some countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, while sweet sorghum is grown in Australia, Asia and Latin America,” Lo said at the Indonesia Biofuel Conference 2009 on Wednesday in Jakarta.
She said that biofuel feedstocks needed to be hardy so as to reduce the cost of fertilizer and water. “For example, they should be able to grow on marginal land but still produce high yields.”
Arif Yudianto, a biofuel researcher at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, said that sweet sorghum was better suited to cultivation in Indonesia and produced higher yields than jatropha.
“A hectare of sweet sorghum yields more bioenergy than jatropha,” Arif said during a telephone interview. One hectare of sweet sorghum, he said, could produce between 5,000 and 15,000 liters of ethanol per year, while one hectare of jathropha could produce at most 4,160 liters of biodiesel.
Moreover, he said, researchers and farmers have not yet isolated one jatropha variety for domestication, meaning that plants matured at different rates and were time-consuming to harvest.
According to Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry figures, as of the end of June 2008, installed ethanol production capacity in Indonesia stood at 192,349 kiloliters a year, while installed biodiesel production capacity as of the end of 2008 amounted to 2,529,110 kiloliters a year.
The ministry has been actively encouraging private sector investment in such renewable energy sources as biofuels, hydro, geothermal and bioenergy.
The national energy mix is dominated by petroleum, which supplies 51.6 percent of the energy consumed in Indonesia. Natural gas accounts for 28.5 percent and coal 15.34 percent, but renewable energy supplies only 2 percent.
The government aims to reduce the use of petroleum-based fuels in the energy mix to 20 percent by 2025, with natural gas increasing to 30 percent, coal 33 percent and renewables 17 percent.