| Application of biomass-energy technologies |
|VI. Conversion of biomass into electricity|
In August 1980, the Government of the Philippines raised the price of fuels, doubling the price of diesel within two years. This adversely affected the farmers who pumped water for irrigation and caused severe economic difficulties. The Government's response was to look for alternative energy sources and gasifiers were chosen due to the extensive R and D experience of the University of Philippines in this field (Foley and Barnard, 1983).
Attempts to introduce gasifiers on a large scale began in 1981 when the Government, with assistance from USAID, embarked on an ambitious programme which initially planned to retrofit 1150 diesel-pump-powered irrigation systems converting them to gas/diesel fuel operations with charcoal-fed gasifiers. This involved 495 irrigator's service associations (ISA) with a total membership of over 26,000 farmers and covered over 46 000 ha The Government's main agency in promoting the use of the gasifiers was the Farm Systems Development Corporation (FSDC). Bernardo and Kilayko (1990) carried out an analysis of the gasifier programme. The results were very disappointing, with just 1 per cent (three out of 248 plants) still being used in1987; and over 80 per cent in need of repair. The gasifier programme thus failed to achieve its objectives in reducing farmers' dependence on diesel fuel and in improving their financial position. The causes of this unsatisfactory outcome are claimed to arise more from institutional and management problems than from any inherent weakness in the technology itself.
According to Bernardo and Kilayko (1990), success required a "fit" between the technology, the users and the implementing agency. Many farmers did not view their irrigation systems as a means of improving their productivity and profitability, but largely as a type of insurance against inadequate rainfall. Therefore, they saw lime value in gasifier-powered pumps. The gasification programme was imposed from above with little understanding of the users' needs. The method of financing also failed to provide clear economic signals to the farmers, and failed to acknowledge the financial realities of the farmers' lives. Many farmers did not know how much the gasifier was costing them, and they frequently did not realize that its costs were covered by a loan rather than a grant. As projects failed, this clearly affected their ability to meet loan repayments.
The half-hearted support of the FSDC area officers and their more general financial difficulties created serious problems in implementation, and the FSDC were generally unable to enforce minimum requirements of its projects with many consequent failures. Additionally, the failure of the ISAs to observe proper maintenance practices ultimately resulted in engine failures, and even permanent damage to engines. Poor maintenance reduced the life expectancy of the gasifier which, in turn, raised the annual capital cost charge significantly. An additional problem was that inflation had a very negative effect on farmer's living standards forcing them to cut down on production inputs, one of which was irrigation - not a priority for many farmers despite FSDC's objectives.
As indicated in table 14, the use of gasifiers could have resulted in significant savings in fuel costs; however, this was not so. Solely on the basis of the cost of fuel, running a 50 HP diesel motor on 50 per cent diesel and 50 per cent charcoal produced only minor savings in 1982 and 1985, and losses in 1983 and 1984. This was partly because charcoal prices increased by 600 per cent from 1977 to 1985 and charcoal was, on occasion, more scarce and expensive than diesel due to increasing household and industrial demand. The greatest savings occurred in 1987 when charcoal prices fell faster than those of diesel. Charcoal gasifiers thus did not completely displace the use of diesel oil. The farmers found it inconvenient to procure two types of fuel without obtaining sufficient benefits for their extra efforts. The implementing agency was inadequately funded and was subject to unrealistic installation targets imposed by the political system. This case highlights the considerable difficulties in setting up and running an infrastructure necessary to carry out repairs and supply spare parts to support new technologies. It illustrates the even more difficult problem of ensuring an adequate supply of raw material (charcoal) at acceptable prices (Bernardo and Kilayko, 1990).