Electricity from Gliricidia – an entirely Sri Lankan concept


Electricity from Gliricidia – an entirely Sri Lankan concept

It was heartening to read the news item under the heading
‘Electricity from Gliricidia’ in the Daily News of January 6, 2012. The
prominence given to this news item in a national newspaperwith wide
circulation is indeed welcomed by all who have strived over the past
several decades to bring to the notice of the authorities the viability
and the national importance of making use of this indigenous, renewable
resource to meet the growing demand for electricity.

However, the above mentioned news item has many factually incorrect
statements which will convey the incorrect impression in the minds of
the readers who are not in possession of the true situation. Primarily
the concept of using Gliricidia for generation of electricity is
essentially a Sri Lankan development promoted more than 28 years ago.

Soil erosion

His concept was first promoted by engineer P G Joseph, the former
Director of the Renewable Energy Division of the Ministry of Science and
Technology (Now the Ministry of Technology and Research) in 1980 in a
technical paper presented at the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka.
This provocative idea was picked up by the late Vidya Jothi Dr Ray
Wijewardene who was in the audience, no doubt prompted by his own
expertise in growing Gliricidia in the world acknowledged Sloping
Agricultural Lands Technique (SALT) for the protection of our hill sides
from soil erosion. This led to a long standing and persevering effort by
these two visionaries to bring this concept to the attention of the
authorities of power and energy in the country.

Dr Ray Wijewardene used his considerable experience and knowledge,
both as an engineer and as a renowned agriculturist to put into practice
the ideas proposed. Not only did he demonstrate the best practices for
growing Gliricidia in his Khohomba Estate at Kakkapalliya to make it the
most productive coconut cultivation in the country, with yields far
exceeding the national average, without using any urea fertilizer, he
also demonstrated the feasibility of electricity generation using
Gliricidia with a small scale gassifier based generator, which is still
providing power for his estate staff. Two other similar installations of
higher capacity of 35 kw and 100 kw were installed at the Galvanizing
Plant of the Lanka Transformers Ltd at Sapugaskanda and at the National
Engineering Research and Development Centre at Ekala.


Potential In come from 8000 Gliricidia Trees ( I Ha
plantation)

In the meanwhile renowned agricultural scientists such as Dr Jayantha
Gunethilake the present Director of the Coconut Research Institute and
Dr Lionel Werrakoon, former research scientist at the Mahailluppalama
Agricultural Research Station of the Department of Agriculture who have
done extensive research on Gliricidia, primarily as a source of nitrogen
fertilizer to replace the expensive imported Urea, recognized the much
wider potential of Gliricidia as a valuable source of Fertilizer, Fodder
and Fuel, and collaborated closely with Dr Ray Wijewardene and Eng. P G
Joseph.

Their research is still continuing on ways and means of promoting
extensive cultivation of Gliricidia in many productive ways and also in
documenting its value in the three aspects of Fertilizer, Fodder and
Fuel. However, it was the contribution by two other Sri Lankan Companies
which practically demonstrated at commercial scale the value of
Gliricidia as a source of fuel.

Bio-energy projects

Haycarb PLC supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology and
the championship of Minister Prof Tissa Vitarana demonstrated the
viability of using Glricidia to replace oil for thermal energy
applications using gassifier technology. Two other Sri Lankan Companies
, Lanka Transformers Ltd and Ceylon Tobacco Company took up the
challenge to prove the technical viability of large scale power
generation by developing the 1.0 MW Dendro Power Plant at Walapane in
2005, even though the tariff paid by the CEB for the energy generated
was totally inadequate to operate the plant as a profitable commercial
venture. Their pioneering efforts effectively removed any doubts of the
technical viability of using Gliricidia as a fuel for power generation
as proposed by Eng Joseph more than 28 years ago.


A Rural Biomass Economy with Gliricidia

In the meanwhile the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka which was
inaugurated in 2004 under the patronage of late Dr Ray Wijewardene
continued to campaign , both to promote the growing of Gliricidia, and
for the wider acceptance of the feasibility of using Gliricidia for
power generation and for thermal energy in industry. These untiring
efforts led to the declaration of Gliricidia and the Fourth National
Plantation Crop after Tea, Rubber and Coconut, by the Cabinet of
Ministers in June 2005. While the many other important and far reaching
proposals were included in this cabinet decision, none of these have
been implemented yet. However it is important to record here that The
Prime Minister Hon D M Jayaratne , who was the Minister of Post and
Technology at that time provided valuable suggestions to supplement the
above cabinet decision, demonstrating his clear appreciation of the
value of Gliricidia , which grows profusely in his own electorate , in
Gampola. It is therefore hoped that he would continue to promote the
development of this resource.

It will be clear from the above that all the research and development
work on Gliricidia , not only as a means of generating electricity but
for a plethora of other uses have been done by Sri Lankan scientists and
engineers.

The recently commissioned 500 kW dendro plant at Thirappane using
Glricidia is also a result of such research. Also the interest created
in the industry which has led to the 17 bio-energy projects with a total
capacity of 81.7 mw which has received the energy permits form the
Sustainable Energy Authority is the direct consequence of such research
and the lobbying by the Bio-Energy Association for a reasonable tariff
for the energy generated. These projects have attracted investors not
only from China and India but several other countries. The government’s
commitment to provide electricity to all by 2012 will require some 3
percent of the population in remote villages to be provided with
electricity form off grid systems.

The Dendro energy using Glririciida is the only option for most of
these villages to receive firm electricity similar to the gird supply. A
number of such systems have been developed and installed by Eng. Lalith
Senenviratne and have been operating successfully for several years now.
It is therefore entirely incorrect to state Chinese Company has
demonstrated the concept by their own research. While the investments by
Chinese and other investors is most welcome as Sri Lanka cannot generate
adequate capital for the large scale development of the industry, it is
important to high light and appreciate the persevering efforts by the
Sri Lankan Scientists and Engineers in this field.

National economy

The target set by the Mahinda Chinthanaya, Vision for the Future , to
achieve a 20 percent contribution by non conventional renewable energy (NCRE)
for the power generation by year 2020, as recently emphasized by Power
and Energy Minster Patali Champika Ranwaka will require at least 300 mw
of power to be generated form Dendro power plants using Gliricdia and
other suitable Short Rotation Coppicing tress species. These will
contribute very favorably to the other sectors of the national economy
such as livestock development, reduced inorganic fertilizer inputs for
food production and enhancement of income of rural farmers, as well.
These benefits are spelled out in detail in the publications of the Bio
Energy Association freely accessible through the web site
www.bionergysrilanka.org

It is the responsibility of the national media to ensure that the
valuable contributions by Sri Lankan professionals be given prominence
and not to allow the credit for these successes to be assigned to any
foreign parties.

It is our earnest hope that the state authorities recognize at least
now the importance of optimizing the use of indigenous and renewable
resources for power generation thus breaking the shackles of over
dependence on important fossil fuels.

In this regard the recent inauguration of the Sri Lanka Energy
Company under Power and Energy Ministry to undertake renewable energy
projects and the most important comments by Power and Energy Minister
emphasizing that the cost of generation by such sources will be cheaper
than that from even coal, often touted as the cheapest source of power,
in the near future is most welcome.

The writer is the Secretary, Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka

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