Colombia’s ethanol output is on track to nearly double by 2014 as the country seeks to meet growing domestic fuel demand while limiting pricey energy imports, the head of Colombia’s biofuels association said in an interview. The Andean nation has spurred on ethanol projects to lower its import bill while creating jobs in rural areas rife with cocaine production, helping make it Latin America’s No. 2 maker of ethanol – though output is still a fraction of that in regional biofuels giant Brazil.
Three new projects in development will boost ethanol output by 1.05 billion liters per year to reach 2.2 billion liters per year in 2014, said Jorge Bendeck, executive president of FedeBiocombustibles. “If we don’t have an alternative fuel to diversify our sources of liquid energy, we are destined to import expensive fuel,” he said in an interview. “Biofuels are the cushion that protects us from an uncertain future.” The output increase could provide additional fuel equivalent to roughly a quarter of 2011 fuel imports by state oil company Ecopetrol.
Colombia produces ethanol almost entirely from sugar cane, and also produces biodiesel from palm oil. The country’s biofuels push is in part meant to help replace the cultivation of coca, the main ingredient of cocaine, with legal crops. Supporters say the effort has created legitimate businesses in areas once dominated by leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries involved in the drug trade.
Critics say the palm-oil boom has spurred violent land-grabs by demobilized paramilitary leaders and pushed peasant farmers out of their homes. “Having land under cultivation is the best guarantee of peace in that area,” Bendeck said. Increasing biofuels output will require tapping new land without cutting down forest or taking over land now used for food production, he added. The industry is eyeing expansion in areas currently used for low-density ranching. “There are 43 million hectares (106 million acres) being used for ranching, this could be reduced by half by increasing the number of cattle per hectare,” he said.