The Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and United Kingdom-based organizations have started a project to make clean energy accessible to remote and underserved rural communities.

According to Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, the “Rice Straw Biogas Hub” project is a collaboration of UK-registered startup Straw Innovations (SI) as lead proponent, SEARCA, the UK SME Koolmill, and UK academic partner Aston University.

He said the three-year project is funded by Innovate UK under the auspices of the United Kingdom Research and Innovation organization.

“The project will generate biogas as clean energy from waste rice straw and provide an innovative package of technology services for rice farmers,” Gregorio explained.

Gregorio said the project is gearing for its first commercial scale in Laguna starting in September 2022.

SI Director and Founder Craig Jamieson said SI will lead efforts to scale up the rice harvesting system that it has developed over five years and establish a rice drying service through the combustion of biogas from rice straw.

“The project team will also test a biogas engine for combined heat-and-pumping,” Jamieson said.

On the other hand, Koolmill will showcase its energy-efficient rice milling technology, packaged in a pay-per-use business model.

Meanwhile, Aston University will conduct surveys in Laguna and major rice-growing areas across the Philippines to assess attitudes toward and socioeconomic impacts of the Rice Straw Biogas Hub and proposed business models.

Gregorio explained that the Rice Straw Biogas Hub demonstrates efficient removal of waste rice straw from farmers’ fields and conversion into eco-friendly and commercially viable products, focusing on biogas.

Jamieson also explained that the hub can prevent the burning of 300 million tons of rice straw as waste across Asia each year.

“The hub has exciting potential to bring clean energy access to the 150 million small-scale rice farmers who need it to process their crops and generate new income opportunities,” Jamieson said.

As such, Gregorio said the hub will engage farmer in a working model for income resilience.

“SEARCA will help measure and establish the impact of the hub on farmer incomes, equality of opportunity, food security and decarbonization benefits, and will also be involved in formulating recommendations for policymakers,” Gregorio said.

Gregorio added that the hub will introduce the package of rice technologies from efficient grain/straw harvesting, biogas-powered drying, and storage to efficient milling.

“With this, it is envisioned that farmers could triple incomes while protecting the environment. Through an affordable, value-adding commercial business model, farmers will avoid buying and maintaining expensive equipment,” Gregorio said.

SEARCA will also be involved in greenhouse gas analyses quantifying the emissions saved throughout the system through its Emerging Innovation for Growth Department.

Gregorio said the results will be used as a basis for potential carbon-trading revenue in the future and that SEARCA will also lead the work package on creating an enabling environment. It involves technical training in anaerobic digestion for stakeholders as well as analyzing policies, gaps and market failures to help governments develop supportive policies across Southeast Asia.

“We can do more toward accelerating transformation through agricultural innovation when we work collaboratively. SEARCA promotes the Rice Straw Biogas Hub as a clear example of innovation and successful academe-industry-government interconnectivity,” Gregorio said.

Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture