Anyone for biofuels?

European Union regulations requiring Greece to boost biofuel usage for transportation purposes to at least 2 percent this year and 5.75 percent by 2010 offer a significant opportunity for farmers to realize large added value, Deputy Development Minister Giorgos Salagoudis said last week. Speaking at a two-day conference hosted by the Panhellenic Confederation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (PASEGES), he said the new EU legislation presents new possibilities for restructuring crops with a view to the production of biomass for energy usage. «Our country is at a crucial crossroads and its choices will depend on whether the biofuels market will be developed to the benefit of the Greek farmer,» he said. If the opportunity is not tapped, the potential for such production will either be covered by direct imports or will be met by Greek factories using imported raw materials, he said. The state-owned Hellenic Sugar Industry (EBZ) has already set up experimental energy cultivations in Larissa, Komotini and Orestiada for the production of ethanol, and is considering expanding such production from wheat crop residues. Separately, researchers at the Technical College of Crete (TEI) said at a recent conference in Iraklion that the island had a considerable potential in the production of biofuels from used frying oil, carob pods, sugar beet and other raw farm materials having a substantial sugar and carbohydrate content. Used frying oil, in particular, was in abundance due to the large tourism industry, they said. Carob, mixed with grape must, can yield alcohol for automotive purposes. Such biofuel is already produced in Brazil from sugar cane, in the US from corn and in France and Spain from sugar beet. TEI professor Giorgos Vourdoumbas said the technology to produce biofuel from raw farm materials is as simple as producing wine and must, but the overriding question is cost efficiency. «The processing of carob pods, in particular, is not especially economical, but with rising conventional fuel prices it may become so,» he said.

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