By ELOISE WALTON
CAROBS WILL soon supply the Algarve’s first bio-fuel plant, which is due to be constructed in 2009 and will be ready to begin production within three years.
“It is a clean energy with the huge advantage of not interfering with the human food chain,” said Manuel Caetano, Vice-President of the Associação Interprofissional para o Desenvolvimento e Valorização da Alfarroba (AIDA), one of the organisations promoting the project with the AGRUPA producers association.
The location for the factory has not yet been chosen, however Loulé and São Brás de Alportel counties have been identified as possible locations.
This project represents an investment of five million euros, which comes exclusively from national companies.
“We are going to create a new company, which will manage the factory,” said Manuel Caetano.
The Faro-based University of the Algarve and the national institute of engineering, technology and innovation, among others, are also co-operating with the project.
When the factory is functioning, alcohol will be produced in a process involving enzymes, from the mass of the carobs which accounts for around 90 per cent of the weight of the fruit. The remaining 10 per cent, which are the seeds, are used in other industries.
In the last decade, carob plantations in the Algarve have been renewed with the help of EU funds and favourable weather conditions, with this year’s crop expected to exceed 40,000 tonnes. This quantity of crop is expected to increase by a further 50 per cent in the next five years.
Of this, the new bio-fuel factory will initially receive 10,000 tonnes of carobs. “Because animal production is increasing, it means that there is no risk of the region not being able to respond to demand from the usual markets, such as animal food production,” said Manuel Caetano.
He also said that the plans for a factory have come about as a result of increased production, with two million trees being planted in the last 12 years.
Portugal is currently the third largest producer of carobs in the world, after Morocco and Spain, with more than 90,000 hectares being planted.
“If there is a large amount of crop which cannot be sold, then prices decrease, which we want to avoid,” said Manuel Caetano.
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