Sugarcane as a Renewable Energy Source

In the past Barbados had an efficient export oriented thriving sugar industry using
the soil, rainfall, well adapted varieties and available labour with well tested
agronomic practices in the plantation system, coupled with well-run sugar
factories. However in the recent past sugar production declined and attempts to
produce energy through co-generation in the existing factories using fuel cane
along with sugarcane failed due to many factors. These factors include increased
production costs, poor management and inadequate testing of fuel cane. Recent
plans by the government to diversify sugar industry with huge $400 million
project seems to be going nowhere.

The suitability of sugarcane as a source for renewable energy is being successfully
exploited in Guadeloupe and in Mauritius in the traditional sugar factories with
the use of supplement fuel in certain months. In Brazil, in addition to using cane
juice to produce fuel ethanol, projects are being undertaken to use total sugar
cane biomass to produce energy. During the last few years considerable progress
has been made in the technologies like gasification to use biomass for power
generation in Europe and North America.

There is a considerable area of idle land once used for cane production now in
bush. Bringing this land into cultivation to produce biomass to generate energy
can bring considerable agro-industry activity to the economic benefit of the
country. Barbados still retains most of infrastructure and knowledge of cane
production. Current interest in Barbados to exploit renewable energy sources like
solar and wind can be supplemented with use of sugarcane as an additional
energy source. Barbados is fortunate to have cane breeding and variety testing
stations to develop an array of very productive sugar cane varieties to the
local conditions with various combinations of characteristics. Unless some action
is taken very soon, the current small acreage under cane production will shrink
further and even the infrastructure and knowledge will disappear. Before this
happens, it is highly desirable to explore the use of gasification or related
technologies to produce renewable energy using currently available high biomass
yielding cane varieties supplemented with related biomass crops.

This kind of project need to be managed by private sector with some support from
government.

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About Andrew Stoute

Dr. Stoute obtained his PhD in Plant Biology from the University of Reading in 2009 working on photoperiodic control of flowering. He then took Post-Doctoral Researcher position at Rothamsted Research working on the developmental factors around parental regulation of seed size in oilseed rape (canola). He joined the staff of the West Indies Central Sugar Cane Breeding Station in 2011 as the Plant Geneticist, responsible for performing crosses from extensive germplasm collection to provide clients with improved sugarcane varieties. He also develops systems and programs to aid in the selection of the best parental material for those crosses.

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