The biomass sector in Jamaica is just in the begginings. Sugarcane bagasse is the main source and other residues and energy crops are being considered in new projects. The sugarcane industry has a strong linkage with lignocellulosic raw materials and combined heat and power production. In recent decades most countries, but especially Brazil, have started to use bagasse and sugarcane agricultural residues (baling straw mainly) to feed their facilities. As sugarcane productivity is often limited in regions with low competitiveness and lower yields, a typical trend we see is that companies focus on sugarcane in better suited areas. Then marginal lands become more available and companies and farmers look for alternative crops.
Sugarcane bagasse is currently the main source of biomass fuel in Jamaica, with sugarcane processors using the cane residue to generate power at their own facilities. Sugar production in Jamaica has been in decline since its peak in 1965, and a significant amount of the 46,000 hectares of land designated for growing sugar cane is unused.
Jamaica currently produces some 1.5 million tons of sugarcane per year on 32,000 hectares of cropland, with a production rate of 53 tons per hectare.
The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) plans to greatly increase sugarcane production over the next few years, to reach an annual target of 3.5 million tons of sugar cane produced by both estates and private producers by 2016–17. The MOA plans to meet this production goal by expanding sugarcane production to 44,000 hectares and increasing production intensity to some 80 tons per hectare. Of this increased production, 1 million tons is expected to go toward ethanol for fuel blending (Jamaica currently imports ethanol) and rum production. The remaining sugar cane will be used to produce 200,000 tons of sugar per year, of which 80,000–90,000 tons will be for domestic consumers, and the rest exported to other Caribbean countries and elsewhere.
Jamaica currently has seven sugarcane processing factories with a combined capacity of over 4 million
tons per year.
The Sugar Company of Jamaica, a government-run company, recently divested itself of its sugar factory holdings. The Trelawny and St. Thomas factories were sold to local investors in 2009, and the Frome, Monymusk, and Bernard Lodge factories were sold to COMPLANT, a Chinese company, in 2011.
Existing bagasse cogeneration capacity in Jamaica is intentionally inefficient in order to dispose of the
maximum amount of bagasse through burning, because at the time that the generation plants were built, excess electricity could not be sold to the grid.* Boilers were therefore designed to have efficiencies of less than 50%, even though efficiencies of close to 90% are feasible.35 If bagasse generation is connected to the grid for sale of excess electricity, efficient high-pressure boilers can generate 110 kWh or more per ton of sugarcane. If efficient sugar processing and generation technologies are implemented in all Jamaican sugar factories, bagasse could feed 220 GWh of electricity into the Jamaican grid each 185-day harvest season (December through April).
Several of Jamaica’s sugar refineries have plans to expand their electricity generation, including a planned new cogeneration facility at Monymusk that will be supplied with bagasse from both Monymusk and Frome.
Discussions are currently under way regarding what fuel will be used for the facility in the harvest off-season. Options under consideration include coal, as well as alternative biomass crops such as switchgrass.38 This plant is expected to be connected to the national electricity grid.
Energy Crops in Jamaica?
Our group has been developing and promoting energy crops in the Caribbean in recent years (Mexico, Panama, Domenican Republic, Virgin Islands) and have numerous parters and experts working in the area. Some of the following crops could be possible in Jamaica to be consider in projects for biogas, combustion or biofuels:
* Elephant grass AKA Napier grass Pennisetum purpureum). Also referred as Giant grass or King grass, Jamaica offers a perfect environmental context for its development as energy crop. Yield potentials and expected costs at farm level in many areas would allow low production costs for power stations. Biogas production is another possibility as we have been analyzing in the Caribbean. And there is experience with this species in Brazil and Mexico in thousands of hectares we were involved with showed that napier grass is already a commercial crop. In US there are several planting material suppliers available and it is being used for thermal-power facilities already in many countries. Honduras is now starting a 30MW biomass plant. Often bales and pellet production but also silage for biogas facilities are main final products to consider. Pennisetum purpureum could be considered a feedstock for pulp mills too (non-wood fibers). More on Pennisetum here.
* Several tropical warm grasses are possible to be managed as dedicated crops. There are many experiences and projects that have shown highly efficiency GHG mitigation patterns while producing low cost feedstock wirh species as Guinea grass, Sorghums, Switchgrass, Millets and many others. Most species have several alternative uses (fodder, biogas, pellets and straw bales for co-firing, etc.) Boilers and technologies are being developed fast and biogas digesters can use the “silage” biomass from grass cuttings if feedstock transport distances allow good profits. Pellet production from C3 and C4 grasses is already being developed as a realistic alternative in US and EU for pellets and biogas (hundreds of reports on this). Tropical areas have often lower costs and it is possible to offer some assessment on environmental benefits too.
* Short rotation coppice with woody crops is also at commercial level both for pellet and briquettes or to feed directly chips with low moisture levels. In tropical areas, woody materials in dedicated plantations can often contribute to reduce deforestation and promote rural employment opportunities. Some species including Eucalyptus and Acacia mangium are better developed in tropical areas. Something about this might be covered too. Several evidences have been suggesting that woody biomass plantations in tropical countries may contribute largely to decrease deforestation and produce sustainable sources of renewable energy.
* Tree legumes and agroforestry to produce cheap biomass might be suggested too in order to increase biodiversity and offer a broader mix of alternatives enhancing food production and synergies. This is something very much suggested by energy and environment authorities in several regions of the world as we explain here.
* Bamboo as energy crop. Many species of bamboo are being produced for construction and now several companies provide planting materials with possible use as feedstock. Again, energy and other products can have synergies we can try to cover in the study. It is suggested to not trust in companies providing planting material as many of them have not developed large projects dedicated to produce biomass and cannot offer reliable data and background neither study the local conditions and select best alternatives (they just wopuld offer their products to the project). See more on bamboo here.