According to the International Geothermal Association (IGA), worldwide, the Philippines ranks second to the United States in producing geothermal energy. By 2005, geothermal energy accounted for 17.5% of the country’s electricity production.
More recent statistics from the IGA show that combined energy generated from the geothermal power plants in the islands of Luzon, Leyte, Negros and Mindanao account for about 27% of the Philippines’ electricity generation.
Apart from providing a substantial amount of renewable and clean source of electricity, geothermal energy has been instrumental in decreasing the country’s reliance on oil and fuel imports for its electricity needs. For the next five years, the Philippines’ supply of geothermal energy is estimated to replace an average of 25 million barrels of imported fuel oil, roughly equivalent to foreign exchange savings of about US$588.4 million (based on an average crude price of US$25 per barrel).
In spite of these impressive numbers, the country is believed to have a potential of untapped geothermal resources equivalent to 2,600 MW. Development for the next five years aims to generate 1,200 MW of this potential.
Based on PNOC-EDC figures, an average of 36 geothermal wells per year needs to be drilled. Of this number, PNOC-EDC commits to develop 25 wells, with the remaining 11 wells available for private and foreign investors.
In the Philippines, the industry of biofuel has been slowly gaining ground, especially in remote and undeveloped towns relying on biofuel to provide their communities with electricity. Various raw materials from corn and sugarcane products have been effective in providing small-scale energy, enough for the minimal needs of rural towns and villages without having to sacrifice on food allocation and land use.
The resurgence of biofuel raises concerns because current technologies require huge tracts of land that the Philippines does not have. The very little that it does have are used mainly for agriculture. For this very reason, the country is an ideal site for biofuel production because it already has existing venues and effective methods for cultivating crops. Additional conversion of nature reserves is not necessary if cultivation of biomass is done in rotation basis with food crops.
The Philippine National Oil Company-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC) has been atthe forefront of these biofuel initiatives, magnifying it into a larger scale industry with the potential to power cities and provinces. Since 2006, the PNOC-AFC has been actively seeking out viable sites for dedicated biofuel crop production. Areas in Cagayan de Oro,Bukidnon, Agusandel Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Butuan have been eyed because of itsideal features, including weather and soil conditions, pre-existence of previous development, as well as proximity to biomass refineries.
The organization has been actively funding research to refine biofuel production and shift from food crops to other plant materials, including organic wastes. In particular, PNOC-AFC has has been focusing on jatropha plants as its flagship biomass source. The organization hasbeen working in close collaboration with Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Philippine Council for Agriculture, IRRI, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, National Biotech in the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB), Institute of Plant Breeding in UPLB to identify the variety of jatropha that yields the most fuel and breed them with hardy varieties to with stand fluctuations in the weather and can be cultivated during the off-season. The jatropha seedlings will then be propagated to be planted on a massive scale on plots that have already been prepared ahead of time.
PNOC-AFC has been very successful in using jatropha seeds and the yield to crop ratio has been very ideal. With this initiative, the Philippines is now in an ideal position to go into full-scale mass production of biofuel, having long perfected the art of crop cultivation.
Perhaps the solution to the problems of biofuel production and the challenges that it poses to the country lies in the problem itself: land. The Philippine government, instead of looking for lands to develop should instead look for ways to work with the inherent ability of its indigenous peoples to work with the land without straining its resources. Because current technology uses agricultural crops to manufacture biofuel, the government can look into working with ethnic groups, making use of their idle land to plant biomass crops.These people will cultivate on their small tracts for the government to buy. Small patches of crops, distributed along several hundred thousands of family can still produce significant amounts of biofuel. Rather than developing vast tracts of land that the Philippines does not have, the PNOC-AFC can dedicate small patches of land solely to biofuel production. Factories can be built on existing plants, instead of building new ones.
To such ends, the traditional and backward models of agriculture can very well be the solution to modern biofuel production. In particular, by paying attention to on the long proven indigenous traditions, PNOC-AFC can then provide livelihood without necessarily encroaching on a traditional way of life. Instead of ignoring farming methods that havestood for hundreds of years, the government might do well to do a proper research into the effectiveness of endemic or local plants and animals as sources of biofuel. If they are proven effective, the government can coordinate with local governments and even help small and ethnic communities to set-up cooperatives that will finance community-basedprocessing of biofuel. This simple, town-based process of harvesting and preparing native plants and crops will not only make biofuel cheaper and accessible, it will also provide jobs to indigenous communities and make them more self-reliant. The PNOC-AFC’s role is to research on the process, as well as to standardize and modernize the manufacturing process in order to make the formulations safe and more effective.
The challenge for research scientists is to train its eyes on plants and crops not used for consumption, including waste products such as corn and rice husks. Rather than focusing on the volume production of materials which presents great demands on limited resources, the PNOC-AFC can lead the way towards making both existing lands and crops more efficient and productive. And with the jatropha initiative, it does seem like the PNOC-AFC is just right on track, blazing a gentle fire for all the Filipinos to share.