Spirit of innovation: A small Lamphun distiller wins a big award for recycling waste and cutting energy use. Skip to main content

Spirit of innovation: A small Lamphun distiller wins a big award for recycling waste and cutting energy use.

Boosaba Sunanta never imagined that a tiny social enterprise could stand alongside giant local and global companies in winning a major Asean award for energy efficiency.
Solar energy can heat water up to 75 degrees Celsius, enough to boil corn before fermentation.
But Mae Bua See Community Enterprise, a small distiller of corn-based white spirits in Lamphun, has demonstrated the power of a simple idea: starting a community business that won't create environmental problems.

Mrs Boosaba is the general director of the group that runs the distillery in Mae Tuen in Li District of the northern province, which is famous for corn cultivation. Its green achievements have been recognised next to those of big names like Central Group, PTT Plc, Kasikornbank, Toshiba and Toyota.

The Asean Energy Award 2011 that the group won has become the talk of the town, and the distillery itself has become a role model and demonstration site for others to follow.

Unfortunately, Mrs Boosaba does not have enough money to travel to Brunei to collect her Asean prize. Even travelling to Bangkok on Sept 28 to get the local prize was troublesome because of the flooding in the North.

Nonetheless, achievement has its tale. From 2008 to 2010, Mrs Boosaba's factory developed biogas from wastewater produced by whiskey production and installed flat-plate solar collectors at an investment cost of 17 million baht, most of which came from state support.

Mrs Boosaba's liquor distillery began production in 2002 under the brand So Tiew Phai, using a traditional refining process for corn-based whiskey. But wastewater and a bad odour discharged during the process were problems.

The enterprise attempted to mitigate the problem by using yeast as fertiliser for the corn, but the situation got worse as flies began to multiply, creating a new problem.

Sawad Sunanta, Mrs Boosaba's husband and the chairman of the enterprise, sought advice from the Energy Research and Development Institute (ERDI) at Chiang Mai University and the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA). They provided technical help as well as partial funding.

"We were worried about how to solve the problem of wastewater that originated from yeast because the bad odour worsened," Mrs Boosaba said. "Originally, we didn't know whether the changes would reduce production costs or not. We simply did not want to destroy the environment and the relationship with our neighbours."

With help from the two organisations, a pond to compost wastewater of about 1,000 litres per day was built to produce biogas for cooking, which replaces cooking gas previously used in the amount of 43.2 tonnes a year. The project helps cut production costs by 810,000 baht a year.

The assistance of the two organisations also led to installation of flat-plate solar collectors in 2009. The 322 solar cells are used to generate hot water and were installed at the 40-rai factory with 30% of the construction budget offered by the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency.

The heat from the sun can produce water as hot as 75 degrees Celsius for about 20,000 litres a day to boil corn before fermenting into liquor.

The electricity bill of the enterprise was reduced from 20,000 baht per month to 3,000 to 4,000 baht, with electricity usage reduced by 286,000 units worth 1.03 million baht a year.

With hot water and methane available from biogas in the amount of 50 cubic metres per day, the enterprise's production capacity increases from 500 litres per day to 3,000 litres.

Despite having already won a prestigious award, the enterprise keeps improving itself. It is enhancing the production of ethanol for automobiles to create value-added products.

As for biogas, it is seeking further development; the waste residue from biogas can be turned into food for pigs, so the enterprise is establishing a pig farm for extra income.

"For all these achievements we have to give credit to the two supporting organisations," Mrs Boosaba said. "For the Thailand Energy Award 2011, we did not even know how to go about submitting the applications. Officials from the ERDI and NSTDA had to come and help. We never expected to make it to the Asean level."

At the Asean Energy Awards from 2001 to 2011, Thailand has received 71 medals out of a total of 228 awarded. Singapore and Indonesia are next with 40 medals combined. This year alone, Thailand received seven out of 20 gold medals.

http://www.bangkokpost.com/business/economics/260534/spirit-of-innovation

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