Rice husk powers into energy consciousness

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Power hungry Vietnam will turn to rice husk in a big way as it seeks renewable energy sources to support its economic development.

A plan to develop a rice husk biomass plant in Can Tho City was proposed by a consortium of Japanese and Vietnamese firms in September. The consortium is waiting for a license from the city’s government after it reviewed the US$27 million project, scheduled to begin construction in late 2010.

This project is one of at least three power plants that plan to use rice husk to generate electricity for provinces in Mekong Delta, the region that accounts for half of the country’s rice output.

As one of the world’s leading rice exporters, Vietnam generates large volumes of husk in a three-season year. The country produced 38.6 million tons of unhusked rice in 2008. The Mekong Delta, in particular, produces 3.6 million tons of rice husk a year.

Rice mills, most of them located along canals and rivers, will generate 7.5 million tons of husk in the country next year, said Tran Quang Cu, consultant with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector funding arm of the World Bank.

He said the husk in Vietnam was currently being used inefficiently. Nearly half of it was used in the production of animal food, fertilizers and particle boards or as fuel in rural households and small businesses. The other half was thrown into rivers and canals, polluting the environment.

Cu said rice husk can be used as fuel for biomass power plants to meet growing demand. Vietnam should develop rice husk power plants of 160-189 megawatt capacity near rice mills, he added.

Green and clean

Developing rice husk energy would not only feed the country with more power but also cleaner technology, said Le Phuc Lam, project manager with the Tan Hiep Phuc Investment Joint Stock Company. The company plans to invest $18.6 million in a 10- megawatt rice husk power plant in the Mekong Delta’s Tien Giang Province.

Lam said the biomass plant would use technology with Certified Emission Reduction to assure low level of carbon dioxide emissions as it generated electricity at low prices for consumers.

In addition, the project would get added value from the high silica content in rice husk ash, which can be used in the steel, cement, fertilizer, rubber and semiconductor industries, he added.

Hironori Kawamura, director of the Asian Representative Office of Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, said efficient use of rice husk would result in the most economically feasible and environmentally friendly solution and furthermore, would aid rural electrification in the Mekong Delta.

The World Bank and the Ministry of Industry and Trade are working on policy framework to promote renewable-energy resources like biomass.

Meanwhile the IFC will work with developers to build partnerships between rice mills and traders to secure supply, and support local banks entering the new business of financing renewable energy.

Karla Quizon, IFC’s program manager for Environmental and Social Sustainability in the Mekong region, said her organization’s support for renewable-energy development was an integral part of its climate change and sustainable development agenda. “From our study results, we can determine project scale and location and advise the private sector on the most feasible options for rice husk energy,” she said.

HIGHLY RENEWABLE

According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, commercial energy consumption is growing quickly in Vietnam.

The total installed capacity of power plants was 13,500 megawatts in 2007 and 15,700 megawatts in 2008 while the peak demand was 12,600 megawatts last year. Annual growth rate between 2001 and 2008 was 13.8 to 14.4 percent.

The demand would increase ten times by 2025 while the big hydropower projects will take more time to come on stream, meaning there could be a huge shortage of energy for the next couple of decades, according to the ministry.

Le Tuan Phong, deputy general director of the ministry’s Energy Department, said the government has targeted to increase consumption of renewable energy to 5 percent in 2025 from the miniscule portion at present.

Reported by Minh Quang

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