Oyos Saroso HN, The Jakarta Post, Bandarlampung
Besides being a sugar producer, Lampung province also produces cassava.
In 2004, there were 300,000 hectares of cassava fields in four regencies. Even though Lampung's cassava fields are huge, most Lampung farmers remain poor, with one hectare only producing a maximum of 14 tons of cassava.
Several months ago, the price of cassava stood at Rp 120 (0.012 U.S. cents) to Rp 150 per kilogram. Last year, it was only Rp 70 to Rp 90 per kilogram. Cassava now sells for Rp 315 per kilogram, much to the relief of farmers.
With ample farmland in Lampung, the Starch Research Center at the Lampung Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) is developing bioenergy fuel with cassava.
The research center started experiments on developing bioenergy in 1980, when the Japanese government provided the center with research equipment.
Besides using cassava as an alternative material to make bioenergy, the center has done research on other materials, including corn and sugarcane.
Before considering cassava, the center tried sugarcane, but dropped the project as supply of sugarcane is limited. Sugar is also a more profitable commodity than cassava.
""The economics of it could have be ignored for the sake of research,"" said Arif Yudiarto, a researcher at Lampung BPPT.
Arif said that cassava was the most feasible choice as it was relatively cheap and was 30 percent starch.
In Lampung, farmers do not need a lot of capital to plant cassava. Nor is the plant vulnerable to disease.
""Some 1,000 kilograms of cassava can produce about 166 liters of ethanol,"" said Arif. For research purposes, the center has planted 600 hectares of land with cassava.
Making ethanol from cassava is easy, said Arif. The starch is extracted from the cassava, which is then processed to produce glucose. The glucose is put into fermentations tank and mixed with a microbe (Saccharomyces Cerevisiae) for 48 hours and kept at 33 Celsius to 35 Celsius. The glucose substance is then distilled in order to isolate the ethanol.
Ethanol is the end result, which is mixed with Premium gasoline to make gasohol. The center has produced fuel grade ethanol, the level of which is 96 percent. ""We have been able to produce some 500 liters of ethanol a day, or 150,000 liters a year,"" said Arif, adding that the center was striving to produce ethanol with a 99 percent level. The center hopes to be producing 200,000 liters of ethanol per year by 2010.
If our experiment is successful, gasohol could enter the market in 2010, said Lampung BPPT chief Agus Tjahjono.
""If gasohol gains popularity, farmers will also benefit from it as demand for cassava will grow,"" said Agus.