Company power plants like this are now more common in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima, which is usually referred to by its inhabitants as Korat. This is partly down to the efforts of Thai engineer Prasit Pornsaksit who supplies energy-efficient turnkey solutions to companies in his home country through his company MSM. “In Thai agriculture, biogas plants are now in demand in many places,” said Prasit. “But it is cassava processing that produces by far the most waste water. This means it is also possible to use biogas to fuel engines with power outputs in the 1.5 to 2.0 megawatt range.”
One of Prasit's customers in the cassava trade now has eight mtu engines in operation. They generate a lot more electricity than the factory needs for its own requirements. The owner sells the surplus to the power company and receives feed-in tariff payments in return. “This is a worthwhile business,” said Prasit. However, the model is not currently available to other companies. The Thai government has suspended additional purchases of renewable energy for the time being. The reason given by the authorities was that they feared electricity prices would otherwise rise. Previously, suppliers of renewable energy received a generous premium on top of the market price as an incentive.
Prasit is in favor of foregoing the subsidy but reopening the power grids. He reckons that electricity generated from biogas would pay for itself even without the subsidies. Rolling these out could go a long way towards helping protect the environment.
He can see great opportunities for biogas, for example, in Krabi in southern Thailand, one of the most popular holiday destinations in southeast Asia due to its superb beaches and idyllic islands. But local residents fear that the unique natural surroundings of the area could be damaged by a coal-fired power station currently being planned. The project to supply the much-visited region with urgently needed power has been a matter of dispute for some years now. Biogas could go a long way towards alleviating the power bottleneck. Krabi may not have any cassava factories, but there is no shortage of palm oil mills. “Their waste water is an excellent source of biogas,” enthused Prasit.
Economic benefits secondary
In Korat, Prayut describes biogas as indispensable for the success of his business. However, he emphasizes: “The economic benefits were secondary to me from the very beginning. My primary concern was to find a solution to the environmental problems.” The positive contribution that General Starch Limited wants to make in the region can also be seen in a field near Chainart's farm. The cleaned and treated waste water from the Cassava factory is sprayed onto the ground in thin jets from plastic pipes. It is used here to irrigate a General Starch reforestation project. Banana trees and herbs are already growing here. There are also plans for a small mushroom farm. Prayut ultimately wants the site to become a kind of natural supermarket for local residents, where everyone can help themselves free of charge.
From Chainart's point of view, the factory's reputation has been greatly enhanced by the owner's initiatives. He says it gives him much more than a reliable living, but that the negative aspects of starch production have also now been eliminated. “In the past, the winter stench literally got up our noses,” he recalls. “But fortunately, that's now a thing of the past.”