Biomass accounts for nearly 15% of world energy supplies. In industrialized countries, biomass supplies approximately 3% of total primary energy and is used for heating, electricity and to offset emissions from fossil fuelled facilities. In developing countries, biomass fuel supplies approximately 35% of total primary energy, most of which is used traditionally for domestic cooking and space heating. Traditional biomass accounts for nearly 52% of the primary energy supplied in Sri Lanka. Nearly 76% of our population still depends on fuel wood and other forms of biomass for their household cooking. However the introduction of LPG for domestic cooking some decades ago has reduced such use in the urban households.
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) under the leadership of then Secretary General Mr. Prema Cooray who is a keen advocate of green sustainability implemented the innovative Promotion of Eco-efficient Productivity Project (PEP) with funding from Netherlands about six years ago. This was the first such initiative for the industries in Sri Lanka to consider bio mass energy as an alternate power source. It created history by supporting 12 projects in different industry sectors. Those projects in rubber, ceramic, hotel, textile, agriculture, plantations and activated carbon sectors were given grants up to 50% of the cost subjected to a maximum of Rs.5 Million. This was a great success at a time when the fuel prices reached a peak. But subsequently when the world oil prices crashed with the economic crisis some companies switched back to fossil fuels. The other critical factors which created serious drawbacks were the technology, supplies of fuel wood and the problems associated with the operations.
The Sri Lanka-Norway Business Matchmaking Programme (BMMP) of the CCC, in its longstanding co-operation with Norway for close to 20 years, has played an important role in opening new market opportunities, helping Sri Lanka increase export revenue and upgrading technical expertise of current operations. In its latest development, the BMMP has taken the initiative of promoting the renewable energy sector in Sri Lanka and transferring the technology/technical expertise from Norway to Sri Lanka. Recently, a Consultant from the Norwegian partners (Advance Business Partners) Mr. Bjorn Edwardson visited Sri Lanka in order to carry-out a survey on the country’s present renewable energy status, technology and future opportunities.
The main objective of this visit was to gather information, match the needs of both countries and to organize a delegation of Norwegian companies to visit Sri Lanka by mid October. The Consultant met with few key companies like Lanka Transformers, who was the first Sri Lankan company to operate a dendro power plant with Ceylon Tobacco Company at Walapone and blue chip CIC who were very keen on having the state of the art technology to generate bio-mass energy. The consultant also visited two tea factories of the Watawala Plantations PLC who have been very keen on acquiring modern technologies to have more productive and efficient bio-mass energy generating systems for their tea drying operations. At a time when the cost of tea production is seriously threatening the survival of the industry they have taken the initiative to embark on a few fuel wood plantations in their estates.
In July 1985, at a seminar organized by the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka, Mr. P.G. Joseph presented the first ever proposal in Sri Lanka to generate a large share of the islands future electrical energy needs by cultivating biomass. Most members of the audience ridiculed this proposal for Dendro power as impracticable and outdated. The only supportive comment came from a foreign-looking man, whom he did not recognize or know at the time. He was Vidyajothi Dr. Ray Wijewardene. He has been described as “an engineer, farmer, inventor, aviator and sportsman all rolled into one. Whether at work or play, he was an innovative thinker who rose above his culture and training to grasp the bigger picture.”
Years of their joint advocacy finally led to the European Union agreeing to provide grant funds for a study on the supply of biomass to meet Sri Lanka’s energy needs. This was conducted by the Ministry of Science and Technology from 1999 to 2004. Ray served as a member of the Steering Committee for this project. Under this project, 12 SRC plantation plots, each 3 hectares (ha) in extent, were established in 12 locations in Sri Lanka covering all agro-climatic zones. These trials revealed the optimum parameters such as the species, spacing and harvesting intervals. These trials also confirmed the average biomass yield per hectare per year in commercial scale SRC Plantations in various parts of the country.
Dr. Ray always practiced what he preached. Around this time, he started planting Gliricidia in his own coconut estate in Kakappalliya as an SRC plantation. He also purchased a 4 kW biomass gasifier based electricity generator and installed it at his estate. This generator was operated from fuelwood grown as intercrop in the estate. Electricity thus generated was used to pump water.
Mr. Joseph and Dr. Ray have been also closely associated with Mr. Parakrama Jayasinghe from the early days. He is the present President of the Bio Energy Association/Industrial specialist and the Energy Forum, a non-profit organization working to promote renewable energy technologies provided statistical reports, current energy/environmental regulations, presented an overview of the country’s renewable energy sector and their views on future renewable energy prospects to the Norwegian consultant. Many companies representing various industries such as agriculture, rubber, plantations and hotels have expressed their interest in gaining Norwegian expertise to develop their present energy solutions as well as to receive the highly skilled technical knowhow from Norway.