Philippine Equator Prize 2010 winner embarks on sustainable biofuels by Leonardo B. Rosario
Coconut is considered the tree of life because of its many uses which provide opportunities for smallholder farmers to improve their income and sustain their livelihoods. Despite the many benefits of coconut, however, smallholder coconut farmers continue to subsist on poverty. The low price of coconut oil on the world market brought economic tragedy to the coconut industry, hitting especially hard smallholder farmers who rely mainly on copra and oil production and earn an average of 200 USD a year.
About 30% of coconut lands in the Philippines (about one million hectares) are in mountainous areas and island villages, where the poorest of coconut farmers live. Aside from marketing and transport problems, these areas are barely reached by government services and have no electricity, meaning such households are without power and light.
To help alleviate the plight of smallholder coconut farmers, Trowel Development Foundation of the Philippines, one of the 25 winners of the Equator Prize 2010, embarks on another community initiative – the Coconut Farm Development Program. In partnership with the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, Trowel established three community nurseries in three municipalities in Northern Samar.
More than 250,000 coconut seedlings were germinated in these nurseries and distributed later to more than 1000 smallholder coconut farmers who are members of 33 village-level organizations and three federations affiliated with Pambansang Pederasyon ng Kooperatiba ng Magniniyog (PPKM). The seedlings replaced the non-bearing coconut trees in over 250 hectares of coconut lands in the latter part of 2008.
In the early part of 2009, Trowel forged an agreement with the College of Engineering of the University of Eastern Philippines to engage the members of PPKM in the production of ethanol from coconut sap which could be used as biofuel and provide lighting and fuel for cooking. The local production of ethanol can provide alternative livelihoods for sap gatherers who are also coconut farmers themselves. Using coconut and nipa palm as a source of ethanol has additional advantages considering their relative abundance in the province.
In February 2010, the province of Northern Samar launched the First Coco-Nipa Ethanol Pilot Production Plant. The cooperating partners included the Provincial Government of Northern Samar, University of Eastern Philippines, and the Philippine Coconut Authority. The Department of Science and Technology provided financial assistance of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) to start the project. Through this amount, the JP Gilbuela and Associates fabricated a boiler, a still unit, and a blower used for the production of coco-ethanol through distillation.
The Gilbuela and Associates conducted a preliminary test run before to the launching of the project to determine the quality of the locally fabricated boiler and still units and to determine possible adjustments or modifications needed to prepare for the final and formal test-run of the whole production plant. The preliminary test yielded encouraging and promising results.
The final test run was conducted in April 2010 featuring the process of Coco-Nipa Ethanol production using the locally fabricated boiler and still units and other improvised auxiliary equipment installed in a shade house made of bamboo. The ethanol produced was tested in cooking, blowtorch operation, and fuel blending (10%) in a 2-stroke engine. All tests undertaken during the activity showed encouraging and promising results, indicating the technical and economic viability of the project.
Presently the project is seeking further funding assistance so that it can move forward to its commercialization stage and provide greater contribution to the development of the coconut industry, and benefits to poor smallholder coconut farmers in the province of Northern Samar
Meanwhile, as a member of the steering board and co-chair of Chamber 5 of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, the Trowel Development Foundation aggressively promotes among the local stakeholders the application of RSB’s principle and criteria including its indicators in the commercialization stage of the coco-nipa ethanol production plant.
Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels: an overview
The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) is an international initiative launched in 2007 and coordinated by the Energy Center at EPFL, one of Switzerland’s most famous universities, based in Lausanne, Switzerland. It brings together farmers, industrial producers, non-governmental organizations, experts, governments, and inter-governmental agencies concerned with ensuring the sustainability of biofuels production and processing.
The RSB has developed a biofuels sustainability standard by multi-stakeholder consultation that describes the requirements which feedstock producers (e.g. farmers), processors, biofuel producers and biofuel blenders/retailers must adhere and follow while undergoing the process of certification. Compliance with the standard helps ensure that biofuels deliver on their promise of sustainability by improving energy security, contributing to rural development, nature conservation, and human rights and offering significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions as compared to fossil fuels.
Ready to Launch Certification system: Version 2.0 of the RSB Standard, which was approved by the Steering Board just this past November, is comprised of twelve principles, which identify the core sustainability areas addressed in the standard. The twelve principles covered by the RSB are legality, consultation and planning, greenhouse gasses, labor and human rights, local development, food security, conservation and biodiversity, soil, water, air, use of technologies, and land rights. Each of the twelve principles has specific criteria and indicators, which set minimum requirements which must be respected for operators to be certified.
The RSB developed the Standard through the representatives of civil society and the private sector, each given equal weight in decision-making during a two-year process of consultations and standards development. At the moment, the RSB membership comprises 120 organizations from 40 countries. Grouped into “chambers” the RSB represents different sectors including farmers, biofuel producers, the transportation industry, human rights organizations, environmental and social NGOs, governments, UN agencies, trade unions and research institutes. The broad and diverse participation of RSB stakeholders ensures that the standard is robust and demanding from a sustainability perspective, yet remains realistic and affordable for economic actors who seek certification. The RSB membership is open to any organization working in a field relevant to biofuels sustainability.
By the specific requirements that make up the standard, the RSB is soon to launch a third-party certification system for interested operators. This voluntary certification scheme under the RSB’s credible standard should provide operators with market recognition for their good practices in producing biofuels. The certification system will include project-level audits against the RSB standard, which will be carried out by accredited certification bodies.
Unlike most certification schemes, the RSB system allows groups of producers and organizations in the same supply chain, to apply for certification as a single entity. Such a flexible system allows, for example, a cooperative to share not only the costs of certification but also the costs of implementation of an overall management structure, which can leverage their collective production capacity to improve market access and reach.
Another novel aspect of the RSB Certification Systems is the integration of a risk management system in which a “risk class” is assigned to each entity seeking certification. The scheme uses a tool which evaluates the complexity of the operations, the quality of the management systems, and the likelihood that the entity will be able to maintain its certification. Operators who demonstrate a very low-risk class will benefit from less frequent and less intense and costly audits, whereas those who pose a higher risk of non-compliance with the system are subject to relatively higher auditing requirements. In this way, the RSB provides a strong incentive for operators to put in place the management systems that produce high-quality performance and provide reliable data for the certification auditors.
The RSB is also exploring the possibility of recognizing other certification schemes in areas in which there is overlap with the RSB standard, such as the agricultural commodities that provide both food and fuel (soy, sugar cane and palm oil). Given that many commonalities exist between different voluntary sustainability standards for these crops, a benchmarking system is under development to help operations achieve multiple certifications when needed while avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort and extra costs.
After several months of field testing through pilot projects and several rounds of stakeholder consultation, the RSB approved an updated version of the RSB Standard (Version 2.0) on the 5th of November 2010.
To read more about the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, please visit www.rsb.org