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July 16, 2008

3.2. The potential of cassava as a bio - fuel feedstock

Cassava ranks as the world’s fifth most important foot crop- after maize, rice, wheat and potato (Table 9). Cassava originated in South America and expended wildly to Asia, Africa and being cultivated in 101 countries in a range from 39oN to 30oS. Global production of cassava is around 226 million tons in year 2006 and about 54% of cassava in the world was produced in Africa, 30% in Asia, and only 16% in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). This crop is a staple food crop for many poor farm families around the world. It is also a source of commercial animal feed, starch for the food, candy, alcohol, noodle and pharmaceutical industries.

Cassava has one of the highest rates of CO2 fixation and sucrose synthesis for any C3 plant. This plant being used as a suitable feedstock for ethanol production across Asia. The starch-rich root crop is currently utilized in China and Thailand on an industrial scale . In China, cassava is seen as an important crop to use for the production of bio - fuels. The semi-tropical Guangxi region offers an ideal mix of climate and soil conditions for growing cassava. Compared with corn or wheat, the cost of using cassava to generate a ton of ethanol is 300–500 RMB ($38–$63) less. Guangxi currently produces some 8 million tons of cassava annually, accounting for more than 60 percent of the national total. Continued improvements, such as the introduction of better cassava varieties and plantation techniques, are expected to increase unit production of the crop. Moreover, an additional 670,000 hectares of hillside wastelands in Guangxi are suitable for growing the crop, adding to the existing 270,000 hectares of plantations. The region will also be able to obtain a stable supply of cassava from neighboring producer countries, including Vietnam.

Using cassava in bio- ethanol production is also a growing interest in Vietnam. Vietnam has developed an E10 policy requiring the production of 100 to 150 million liters per year. On November 20, 2007, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, on behalf of the Prime Minister, approved “the scheme on bio-fuel development to 2015 and the vision to 2025”, aiming to produce bio-fuels and partly replace traditional fuels, contributing to ensure energy security and environment protection.

Petrosetco, a division of PetroVietnam, plans to build two tapioca-based ethanol plants in southern and central Vietnam. The state-run company signed two separate deals with Japan's Itochu Corp. and UK's Bronzeoak Group last year. The joint venture with Itochu will see the set up of a plant with a 75 million litre annual capacity in southern part of the country. Petrosetco and Bronzeoak are investigating the possibility of a 150 million litre plant in central Vietnam. Both plants will draw ethanol from tapioca chips sourced from within Vietnam, according to sources close to the projects. Media reports placed the investment values at around US$80 million to US$100 million for the joint venture between Petrosetco and Itochu, and US$138 million for the project with Bronzeoak (Energy Current 2008).

According to Mr. Tao-Chairman of Petrosetco, the two most potential raw material areas are the Southeast and Central Highlands and the current volume of tapioca chips exported of 1.2 million tons per year has been sufficient under the annual capacity of 400 million liters of ethanol.

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