LESS BURNIN’ UP

Colombia 2015 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: BIO ENERGY

A collaboration of farmers, private industry, and industrial organizations are making Colombia the foremost producer of biofuels.

The reduction of carbon emissions and developing sustainable fuels are high on the agenda for both industrialised and developing markets. During the last decade, collaboration between Colombia's cane sugar and palm-oil organisations, research organisations, and the Fedebiocombustibles, Asocaña, Fedepalma, and Centricaña unions have delivered state of the art technology and technical insistence, leading to exponential growth in the sector. It was only over the past decade that Colombia enacted various laws, including Law 693 of Etanol in 2001 and law 939 regarding biodiesel in 2004 to facilitate land ownership distribution and production that these industries really began to grow.

According to FedeBiocombustibles, the industry currently employs more than 300,000 people, around 85% of whom are employed in the countryside. The biodiesel production sector accounts for around 60,000 employees annually, and ethanol accounts for around 22,000, but that number is on the rise. Biofuels are produced and marketed in the country, typically in mixtures of 8% ethanol in petrol, and 9.2% biodiesel with diesel, and are responsible for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by about 2.3 million tons each year.
The strength of Colombia's sugarcane industry has enabled in to become the 2nd largest producer of ethanol on the continent, and 4th in the production of biodiesel with palm oil. The benefits of producing bioethanol, and biodiesel through the use of palm oil are numerous in terms of mitigating carbon emissions. Bioethanol reduces by up to 74% the emissions of conventional unleaded fuel. And in the case of diesel, biodiesel reduces emissions by up to 83%.

Not only is Colombia already one of the largest producers of ethanol, organizations such as Asocaña, Procaña and CentriCaña are working rapidly to expand productive capacity. Due to various climatic conditions and agronomic properties, bioethanol in Colombia is comparatively cleaner than in countries such as neighboring Brazil—where it results in a lesser 65% reduction, according to a recent study funded by the Colombian ministry of Mining and Energy and elaborated on by The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA), the Centro Nacional de Producción Más Limpia y Tecnologías Ambientales Medellín (CNMPL) and the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellín. Colombia currently has 40,000ha of sugar cane plantations for bioethanol production, although according to the study, this potential capacity for production could be as high as 1.5 million hectares.

Unlike the high concentration of ownership in the palm oil industry, Colombia's potential for ethanol production looks very promising in its structure and the technologies employed. There are currently over 2,700 plots currently devoted to the production of Ethanol, the vast majority of which are concentrated in the Valle de Cauca and Cauca regions, areas that have been affected by violence from armed paramilitary, guerrilla, and narco-trafficking groups. The region's main Ingenios or sugarmill's such as Manuelita, and Rio Paila-Castilla have invested in state of the art technologies, community consultancies, and their sustainable systems for recycling sugar bags are some of the most advanced on the continent. The employment prospects offered by the sector are a lifeline to many, and potentially a game changer in the dynamics of rural conflict in the Valle de Cauca.

In May The EcoPetrol affiliated BioEnergy expanded its cultivations in the Puerto López district of Colombia's Llanos plains, with the aim of increasing the cultivable area from 7,000 to 16,800 thousand hectares in the next year, to enable the generation of 480,000 litres of carbonated alcohol per day.