Call to plant more eucalyptus forests

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Bangkok Post 11 November 2006

Renewable energy experts yesterday called on the government to expand eucalyptus plantations for production of ''bio-oil,'' which can be used as a substitute for costly fossil fuels. Nikhom Laemsak, director of Kasetsart University's forestry research centre, said the university had been working with a Canadian firm on setting up a eucalyptus oil production plant after an initial study found that Thailand had the potential to become a bio-oil producer.

''The plant is likely to be built in Roi Et province, which has a wide range of eucalyptus plantations,'' Mr Nikhom told a seminar on alternative energy.

However, he said, the country would need more eucalyptus supplies if it was interested in producing bio-oil, as a lot of eucalyptus would be consumed in the production process.

Scientist will use the ''fast pyrolysis'' method to produce eucalyptus bio-oil.

Fast pyrolysis is a process in which organic materials are rapidly heated to 450-600C in the absence of air.

The outcome of the process is bio-oil (70%), char (18%) and bio-gas (12%).

''The plant would require at least 100 tonnes of eucalyptus a day to generate 75,000 litres of bio-oil, which can be used as a substitute for crude oil in electricity generation and vehicle gasoline,'' he said.

Thailand had failed to expand eucalyptus plantation areas due to strong opposition from environmentalists and local people, who claimed that the tree contains toxic substances that reduce soil quality and consume large amounts of water, causing dryness in the area.

Currently, most eucalyptus plantations are located in the northeastern provinces of Roi Et, Khon Kaen, Maha Sarakham, Nakhon Ratchasima and Chaiyaphum, and the eastern provinces of Chachoengsao and Prachin Buri.

Mr Nikhom said the idea of producing bio-oil from eucalyptus trees was in line with the government's policy of increasing the use of renewable energy supplies to 4% of the total energy supply.

Renewable energy use currently amounts to only 1.35% of the energy supply, so a bigger push would be needed.

Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, chairman of the Poverty Eradication Centre, who gave an opening speech at the seminar, backed the eucalyptus and bio-oil initiative.

He said commercial forest plantations would not only become a new source of fuel, but also a source of income for poor people, who could work in the plantations and sell trees to the bio-oil plant.