Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kitchen size distiller

I'm a great fan of this little pot:
I used fermented palm sap at about 12% alcohol, a 600W induction cooker for about an hour (or about $0.10 of energy), and made 1 liter of 70% ethanol.

The specs say the cooker can make 40% alcohol; the secret to the higher yield is the pall rings I stuck in the upper part of the pot; they have a reflux effect, condensing the heavier steam letting only the lighter vapors with higher ethanol content escape.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rice Husk Biobriquettes

One pound of these generate about 7,000 BTUs

An American manufacturer of pellet machines has made a cost comparison table, which of course needs to be updated with numbers from the Philippines, notably the cost of electricity which is at least twice as high as in the US (don't ask), but on the face of it, pellets or briquettes are the best solution for our project.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Priscilla Chinte-Sanchez: Philippine Fermented Foods

Professor Sanchez adds 30 years' experience to the files; read the whole chapter!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Coconut Sap Sugar Profitability Analysis

The economics in PCARRDS analysis are not convincing at all: they assume a sales price of the - admittedly low glycemic index - sap sugar of PHP 175 (USD 3.90 / kg), which seems much too high - and the breakeven sugar price is PHP 172 / kg. This is just silly.
UPDATE 22JAN2013: Perhaps not so silly after all. Wholesale coco sugar sells for $5/kg - more than 10 times the international price for white sugar. Diabetes anyone?

But let's think in terms of Sugar Palm sap which is more plentiful per tree, and therefore less expensive. We assume PHP 2 / liter plus profit sharing in the ethanol project, but let's say PHP 4 / L which is Binaton villagers' (cheeky) asking price, compared to PHP 7.5 / liter for coconut sap. Furthermore, the villagers do not pay for acquisition of land, since no economic value is currently assigned to the forest, so the numbers look more appealing:

Capital Investment PHP 371,000
Start Up Working Capital PHP 475,000
Total PHP 846,000

NPV of 10 years operation PHP 5,996,000

Break-even sugar sales price PHP 140

Compare with PCARRDS numbers:
Capital Investment PHP 932,000
Start Up Working Capital PHP 475,000
Total PHP 1,418,000

NPV of 10 years operation PHP 523,000

Break-even sugar sales price PHP 172

Pcarrd 12 2010_opt

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Masarang Movie Clip

Note the technique used in tapping. The Masarang villagers have tapped the highest yielding sugar palms over several generations, and those trees can yield up to 50 liters per day. Natural selection at work. The average yield of more random species is 15-20 liters per day.


Instructions for Building Still and Boiler

With much gratitude to Robert Warren and his daughter Nanda who have shared this with us.

Building the Still and Boiler

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Arenga Pinnata Plantation in East Kalimantan

Close to Willie Smits' Samboja Lestari, a local friend of his acquired land to test the sugar palm qualities in practice.


Now covering eight hectares, he has 400 sugar palms planted in 2004 growing alongside juvenile teak. In his estimate 100-150 trees are tappable on any given day, and each tappable tree yields about 5 liters of sugar juice per day. Ten tappers can work the whole plantation, i.e. 10-15 trees per day per tapper. They grow 8 meters apart such that the leaves do not touch (note inconsistency here: assuming 8m * 8m planting - confirmed by observation, including space for the teak trees - gives 150 trees per hectare. I suspect the difference is the area reserved for rubber trees across the road which he probably included in the eight hectares). The seedlings were not inoculated with specific Mycorrhiza before planting, although various fungi are indigenous to the Kalimantan topsoil.

Sugar may be produced provided tools and receptacles are sterilized, and the resulting sugar juice is clear, but sugar fetches IDR20,000/kg requiring 10 liters of sugar juice and half a cubic meter of firewood for boiling. More attractive is production of sugar juice, which fetches IDR5,000/liter and is less demanding in terms of cleanliness.


The green seeds become either flowers or fruits. If flowers, it's a male tree; if fruits and flowers, it's a female tree. Flowers are of no use and gets cut off and discarded. Roughly one third of the trees are ready for tapping on a daily basis, but preparation of the other trees are required: the root of the fruitstem must be knocked with the wooden mallet daily until the surface is soft. This breaks down the vascular vessels inside the stems and facilitate the flow of juice. Once one or two flowers bloom on the male fruit-stem, it is time to cut it off and start tapping. Tapping should be done early morning or late afternoon.

Hang the sugar juice receptacle on fruitstem and collect as required. Alternative method is to make an incision from below half way up the stem, insert a leaf to keep the cut open, and collect the sap in a receptacle hanging under the leaf.

The sugar juice starts spontaneous fermentation immediately upon collection. According to the manager and our guide, the alcohol content after two days is 5-8%, but burying the juice container in the ground (presumably for constant, slightly lower temperature) or keeping it in a refrigerator routinely raises the alcohol content to 20%: this is confirmed by Willie Smits on an ESRI talk, even though it appears to be in conflict with traditional yeast based fermentation processes where the active yeast dies when alcohol reaches 12-14%.

Update: Anecdotal evidence from a trip to Africa confirms the effect of burying the fermenting toddy in the ground; the conversion to acetic acid is halted at lower temperature, allowing the yeast to convert more sugar to alcohol.


The juice yield is about one third of what is achieved in Sulawesi forests where mycorrhiza appears naturally and the trees grow in mixed-species environment. This appears to be the key to achieving the yields of 12-15 liters per day which really gives a kicker to revenues.

The other, and perhaps more significant, economic aspect, is that the land was purchased, seedlings acquired, and tappers hired. The pure forest approach relies on villagers who (a) own existing capital (trees, land), and (b) have capacity to switch from less profitable endeavours to full-time sugar palm tapping and distillation.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Molecular Sieve

A molecular sieve is a material containing tiny pores of a precise and uniform size that is used as an adsorbent for gases and liquids.

Molecules small enough to pass through the pores are absorbed while larger molecules are not. It is different from a common filter in that it operates on a molecular level. For instance a water molecule may be small enough to pass through while larger molecules are not. Because of this they often function as a desiccant.

The wet ethanol is let through a column with plates loaded with 3-4mm beads with pores 3 aangstrom wide; substantially all water molecules are absorbed in the beads. The ethanol is now ready to be blended with gasoline, while hot air is sent through the column to evaporate the water molecules, and the beads are ready for a new production cycle. Beads survive between six and ten cycles. The technology is suitable for small scale production such as ours but needs testing.

  • 3A (aangstrom) beads may absorb up to 24% of their weight of water
  • 500 liter distillery
  • 8% alcohol content palm wine
  • expected ethanol output 10% water content
  • 4 liters (or kgs) of water
  • => 16 kgs of beads required per cycle
  • Quotation in small quantity: USD70/25kg box (plus shipping)
As bead costs are significant, it is important to get the distillation to the highest possible ethanol content before this process.

Commercial installation

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cambodia Visit

The sugar palm is Cambodia's national tree - not the Arenga Pinnata, but a close relative, the Borassus Flabellifer. It provides a modest livelihood based on sugar production, although the sugar juice is often employed to fatten livestock - a superior revenue model compared to sugar production, but mainly adopted in the southern part of Cambodia.


The villages are basically committing slow suicide, since they strip the lowlying lands for firewood. This not only hurts the general environment, but by removing companion species from the Barossus, the yield drops significantly. A small lot owner now has to send an oxcart on a three-day trip up to the hills to gather firewood. This is not sustainable. We need a solar solution.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Binaton Model

We met with the Department of Energy on August 31st; they are very supportive of the project, and will provide any help we need. We discussed the legislation for biofuel: In accordance with Joint Administrative Order 2008-1, any ethanol that counts against the 10% blend rule must be (a) based on feedstock (in our case Kaong/sugar palm) which is harvested by a registered Biofuel Feedstock Producer, (b) produced by a registered Biofuel Producer, and (c) distributed by a registered Biofuel Distributor. There are also requirements to respect any indigenous land ownership, to not encroach on productive agricultural land, and provide income and employment to rural areas. All of these additional criteria play to the strength of the project.

Binaton Update:

· Department of Science and Technology tested the Kaong juice a couple of weeks ago and agrees it is suitable as feedstock which is no surprise since the Binaton community has been producing palm wine and vinegar for a long time, with alcohol content ranging from 7-10%

· The distillation experiments we have conducted in other locations demonstrate that it is unrealistic to expect the mini-distilleries to produce the final quality of ethanol; the local distillation just needs to accomplish two things: (1) stabilization of the Kaong juice – if not processed within two hours of tapping, the sugar content erodes very rapidly, and (2) reduction of the quantity to be transported to the final processing station

· We are now moving to stage 2 in which we set up a proper distillery on location in Binaton. They will use rice husks as feedstock which enables them to keep a constant temperature around the 80 degrees Celcius required, so we are hopeful the ethanol content should be quite good. Once our pilot project has stabilized we will share samples of the ethanol with the oil firm so they can evaluate the quality.

· We discussed the potential quantity for the Binaton Barangay (near Digos City) alone:

o 3,000 ‘hills’ means 3,000 clusters of Kaong, of which at least one tree is productive at any point in time (in my estimate that makes it about 40 hectares of forest, or half a square kilometer)

o 3,000 trees may conservatively produce 3,000 liters of ethanol per day using 15 mini-distilleries strategically placed to optimize proximity to Kaongs/proximity to transportation; note the Indonesian sites' steam and pressure enhanced fermentation process have achieved close to 25% alcohol content, but I take the more conservative 8% - nice to have upside…

o The villagers may work shifts so theoretically production should be continuous; this caps production at 1mio liters of 95% ethanol per year (I’m ignoring the fact that the ethanol produced locally may be less than 95% pure – the oil firm should only pay for the ethanol content). We do not have any experience with the amount of down time due to typhoons, fiestas and general apathy, but I dare say we'll find out.

o 15 distilleries with capex cost of no more than USD75,000 in total, @10% financing means the capital expenditure of the project is minimal compared to the turnover (1mio liters @, say, P30/l = USD700,000 turnover per year compared to interest and repayment costs of USD35,000). Cost of feedstock for the furnaces - rice husks - is minimal, and in fact part of the payment may be in the form of the slops left over from the distillation process which makes for good fertilizer.


The Binaton community will not be able to achieve even wet ethanol specifications in the low-tech distilleries, so we shall define the village as Biofuel Feedstock Producer which is a relatively low compliance registration - and perfectly logical since the output is only 60-90% ethanol content, which is not Ethanol by the DOE standards.

The oil firm will register as Biofuel Producer as well as Biofuel Distributor, which is more demanding both in terms of financial wherewithal, but also technical expertise. In addition, the oil firm must invest in a dehydration plant that can convert the semi-finished ethanol to 99.5% ethanol to comply with DOE rules.

Once our pilot distillery has been tested, we will start rolling out distilleries to the whole Binaton community, with SDC Asia as project managers. Financing will be arranged with SDC Asia as middlemen between the rural bank and the village communities, and SDC Asia will earn a fee from the bank to cover their costs.