Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Authorites pledge funds for biofuel

SOME WAY TO GO Currently, the main drawback in using biofuels is the cost, roughly 5 percent higher than pure petroleum, due to the higher cost of conversion

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA, TAIPEI

The government has earmarked NT$300 million (US$9.15 million) to facilitate research and development on biofuels such as gasohol and biodiesel as part of efforts to lower national consumption of fossil fuels, according to National Science Council Chairman Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁).

During an interview with CNA, Chen said the Council of Agriculture's research project focused on converting biodiesel from soybeans, rapeseed, and sunflower, and that the government-run laboratories would begin R&D on producing gasohol -- a fuel mix containing gasoline and alcohol -- from sweet potatoes, a common local crop.

Sweet potatoes are rich in starch that can be easily transformed into ethanol, Chen said, adding that Taiwan currently had only a relatively small gasohol production capacity, and would need more government funding to meet demand.

Ever since the 1970s oil crisis, many countries have attempted to divert energy sources from fossil fuels to biomass energy and other renewable energies.

Currently, corn and soybean are the main sources of biofuels in the US, while flaxseed and rapeseed are used in Europe, sugar cane in Brazil and palm oil in Southeast Asia.

The main drawback in using biofuels is the cost -- roughly 5 percent higher than pure petroleum -- owing to the more costly conversion process and because production capacity has not reached an economy of scale.

About a year ago, authorities began evaluating rice straw, sweet potato and sugar cane to determine the best material for making biofuel.

Results showed sweet potato was the best -- it's easy to grow and the least expensive.

The results also suggested the future project to create sweet potato gasohol should focus on developing a specific strain that contains more starch in order to increase production efficiency.

According to the Executive Yuan, the biofuel project will employ some 220,000 hectares of fallow land for experimental production of gasohol and will create some 170,000 jobs in the agricultural industry.

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