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New ethanol plant for Jamaica

Published:Monday | March 7, 2016 | 12:00 AMCamilo Thame
A mature stalk of sorghum, ready for harvesting.
JAMPRO and Benchmark Renewable Energy LLC sign an MOU for the company to develop a bio-ethanol plant in Jamaica. Juan Briceno of Benchmark is seated at centre and President of Jampro Diane Edwards is seated right. The others (from left) are: President of Holesinger Farms, Keith Holesinger; manager of manufacturing, energy and mining, at JAMPRO, Ricardo Durrant; president of Capital Solutions Inc, James Carter; and vice-president of Investment Promotion at Jampro, Claude Duncan.

Benchmark Renewable Energy plans to construct a 10 million-gallon ethanol plant and grow the sweet sorghum that it intends to use as feedstock in Jamaica within the next two years.

The Florida-based company also plans to sell the biofuel to Petrojam to replace about 80 per cent of the country's imported ethanol currently blended into gasolene sold at the local pumps.

The biofuel will fire a 6MW electrical generator that will supply the processing facility with its energy needs and provide 3MW to the national grid.

Juan Briceno says it will take around a year to get an ethanol plant up and running, while farming operations need just begin four to five months before the processing facility is commissioned.

But first, the CFO of Benchmark says a lease agreement for 4,000 hectares of land needed to grow the feedstock for the plant has to be inked, followed by an offtake agreement with the state-run refinery, Petrojam, soon thereafter.

A power purchase agreement with the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) would take longer due to engineering requirements, but both SCJ Holdings, which manages thousands of acres of former sugarcane lands on behalf of the Government, and Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, the parent of Petrojam, are already on board.

"We have an MOU," Briceno told Wednesday Business. "We should sign the land lease by early next month."

Some 4,000 hectares can yield up to 400,000 tonnes of sorghum annually from two harvests.

"The variety (of sorghum), which is from Puerto Rico, might be able to do two and half harvests," Benchmark's CFO added.

The project also includes Capital Solutions as the financing company, while Holesinger Farms will offer farming expertise.

In between harvests, the farming operations will rest the land from intensive cultivation - sorghum is greedy for the nitrogen it takes from the soil. Benchmark also plans to rotate the main crop with a variety of mustard seed, which releases nitrogen into the soil, to help replenish the land, and to use as feedstock for producing drop-in aviation jet fuel; about 500,000 gallons a year.

Benchmark is currently looking at Clarendon to locate its ethanol plant and sorghum farm. The project is expected to cost in the region of US$95 million and employ 140 persons directly, and 500 indirectly.

A second phase to develop a further 4,000 hectares and add 10 million gallons capacity to the ethanol processing facility is being considered.

"We would be able to produce 20 million gallons, and through exporting to the US, Jamaica would become a net exporter of biofuel," said Brenico. "We already have an agreement for off-take with Tenaska in the United States."

He also said that the project has a "carbon-negative footprint" in that three tonnes of carbon dioxide is removed from the Earth's atmosphere for every tonne of sorghum produced.