Biofuel from Sunflower: A bright opportunity for the sun-loving bloom by Rita T. dela Cruz BAR Digest , January-March 2007 In a bid to decrease the country’s over dependence on fuel, various research institutions started to focus their leads in studying and identifying some of the most cost-effective and environment-friendly energy source to produce biofuels. Biofuels, such as bioethanol, biodiesel and biogas, are renewable fuels that are generally produced from agricultural crops or organic matter. This effort to find alternative bio-source is also in accordance with the recent passing into law of the Biofuel Acts or SB 2226 and the Department of Agriculture (DA)’s drive towards energy independence. The law requires that “a minimum of 1% biodiesel by volume shall be blended into all diesel engine fuels sold in the country subject to domestic supply and availability of locally sourced biodiesel component.” Violators are penalized with one to five years imprisonment and a fine ranging from Php1 million to Php5 million. Among the crops identified as potential sources of bioethanol are: sugarcane, sweet sorghum, coconut, corn, cassava, and jathropa. And now, sunflower is also coming into the picture as another potential bio-source for ethanol.The potential of sunflower (along with rapeseed) is also being studied in Taipei in their effort to look for more domestic feedstocks coupled with best available and affordable technology. Even the Brazilian agricultural experts are now optimizing the potential of sunflower by learning how to transform sunflowers into biofuel in the most cost-effective means. Other renewable energy sources that they are looking into are soybean and oilseed rape.Meanwhile, an Italian farming association is working on biofuels produced from sunflowers and sugar beets. Its sunflower oil-powered boat premiered at the recent Kyoto Protocol conference in Montreal. It sounded a bit off-beat, but the boat ran fine. According to experts, if this project pushes through in the market, this biofuel is going to be relatively inexpensive. It was also reported that everything smelled faintly like French fries after the demonstration. According to Dr. Heraldo L. Layaoen, vice president for administration, planning and external linkages of the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) and overall coordinator of the DA-BAR Sweet Sorghum Project, anything (crops) with cellulose can be produced into bioethanol, the main difference lies on how ease is the conversion into ethanol and how cost effective is the production. Currently, with the technologies in tact and the varieties of seeds available, DA is endorsing the use of sugarcane and sweet sorghum as feedstocks. But as research on bioethanol continues to proliferate, more potential crops are coming into the scene. Sunflowers in the PhilippinesSunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant that belongs to the family of Asteraceae and is native in North and South America. Although it is not commonly grown in the Philippines, it can thrive in its soil. The giant sunflowers (grows up to 12 feet with head up to 3 inches wide) are native in the eastern United States. The common and recommended variety of sunflower in the Philippines is the hybrid type, which grows up to 105 days after planting.There’s a reason why they are called the sun-loving flowers. Sunflower is a classic example of heliotropism, or the involuntary response of plant to the sun. It turns its head directly to face the sun and reorients overnight to wait for the rising of the sunrise. So, early dawn, looking at them in a vast area of a sunflower field, they look all drooped and weak. Sunflowers in the Philippines are grown for ornamental purposes and for its edible oil. Specifically, at Central Luzon State University (CLSU), they have been growing sunflower since early 70s, mainly for its edible oil. Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking. Its oil is less expensive (and heathier) than olive oil. Its fatty acid content is composed of high oleic type that contains higher level of healthy monosaturated fats.At the moment, CLSU is reviving its sunflower production not for the edible oil but for biofuel. The sunflower seeds contain 36-42% oil and 38% protein meal.Growing sunflowersAccording to the group of researchers from CLSU, the best time for planting sunflower is from October to January for the first crop and February to May for the second crop.To grow sunflower well, the area for planting should have good irrigation facilities. A moderate to well-drained soil is the basic soil requirement. The group added that, soil used in growing corn, rice, and vegetable is also suitable for sunflower production.It is important to prepare the land before planting sunflowers. The recommended system of planting is single row with 75 cm space between rows and 25 cm between mounds. Seeding rate is 18-20 kg/ha given that there are 2-3 seeds with 3-4 cm depth for each mound. It is important to thin and off-bar, 14 days after the emergence of plants and to hill-up after 30 days.Although chemical control is recommended, proper use must always take into consideration. Wilted plants must be burned immediately to avoid further complications. Bees are also important in increasing seed setting up to 20% since they act as pollinators.