The GREL plantations date back to 1957. With the productive life of a rubber tree being 35 years on average, a long-term felling and replanting programme is needed to ensure continuous production. Currently, GREL has a 8-year replanting programme covering a total of 4,700 hectares of old rubber tree plantations, which will potentially make available a total of 1 million tons of fresh biomass by 2018.
There were no major outlets at the moment for the old, felled rubber trees which are ordinarily left to decay or burnt in situ. The volumes currently used by local charcoal producers, firewood traders or carpenters are minimal, comprising less than 8% of the total volume of 150,000 tons per year. In the extraction plan defined between AfriRen and GREL the demand from these local communities forms an integral part of the management schedule.
GREL and TREL signed an agreement in 2010 for a first cargo of biomass scheduled for August 2011. The project aims to create value by extracting, chipping and exporting the rubber tree biomass via the port of Takoradi to the European power market. This line of activity will be new to the port as no biomass export business of this scale has ever been developed. The extraction chain will use the latest forestry technology equipment to minimize CO2 emissions and damage to the soil. The plantation is located less than 100km away from the port. Biomass will be wood chipped directly at the plantation, then stored in a sheltered area near the port until an export cargo of a minimum of 15,000 tons is assembled (roughly every six weeks). As a result, 6 to 7 cargoes are scheduled to be exported during the first 18 months of activity. Our long-term plan is to set up a pelletisation unit of 50,000 metric tons per year capacity, allowing the increase of the calorific content of each export cargo. This development is likely to necessitate the intervention of financial partners.
Advantages for GREL:
This project provides direct benefits to GREL and the related communities. The income generated from the sale of the biomass guarantees the continuation of the replanting programme which is currently dependant on international rubber prices. At present there is little incentive to replant when these prices fall, a situation that will be changed by the introduction of biomass revenues.
Advantages for the local communities:
With the introduction of an industrialised extraction chain, charcoal producers, timber and wood traders will have access to the volume of wood that they need to make the trade regular and sustainable. For example, stumps which usually form more than 15% of the weight of the tree can be commoditised instead of being left to decay on the field. The start up of biomass exports has created in the region of 70 jobs which research shows will support up to 500 further individuals, creating a stable employment structure which will be vital for local communities.
Biomass quality specifications:
The woodchips produced are compliant with EU ENB standards as tested by SGS. The result of a test carried out in 2010 is as follows: