With oil prices spiralling over the past year from around US$28 to around US$40 per barrel, spiking to over US$55 at one point, Taiwanese energy specialists have warned that prices are likely to remain high in the long run because supply can hardly keep up with booming demand. With the threat of shortfalls looming and countries aggressively maneuvering to secure deals with oil-exporting countries, the need to treat development of alternative energy resources as a critical imperative rather than a utopian ideal is becoming increasingly evident. This is certainly true for Taiwan, which imports more than 95 per cent of its energy needs.
Meanwhile the nation’s first facility for production of bio-diesel fuel was inaugurated last October in the Minsyong Industrial Park in southern Taiwan’s Chiayi County. Run by the Taiwan NJC Corp, a producer of vegetable oil, with funding provided by the BOE and technical assistance by ITRI’s Energy and Resources Laboratories, it is designed to produce up to 3000t of bio-diesel fuel annually, mainly for the use of diesel-engine trucks. According to the BOE, an average of 770,000 metric tons of animal and vegetable oil was consumed in Taiwan annually, which translates into a biodiesel fuel production of 85,000t. The plants from which the vegetable oil and the recycled biodiesel fuel originate absorb carbon from the atmosphere and thus reduce the CO2 levels, compensating for the CO2 released when the fuel is burned.
Another experimental factory producing another sort of recycled biomass fuel was set up recently by the Hualien County government in Fongbin Township, likewise with the help of the BOE and ITRI. It transforms combustible solid waste into fuel pellets through a process of sorting, crashing, drying, mixing with additives and pelletizing. The pellets are technically known as "densified refuse derived fuel" and more simply as d-RDF or RDF-5. The fuel’s virtues include high heat value, easy handling and lower pollution than coal. Fed primarily by the garbage of Fongbin Township’s 200,000 or so residents, the RDF-5 pellet factory is designed to process up to one ton of garbage per hour, the same capacity as a commercial garbage incinerator. The pellets are sold to Asia Cement Corp. in Hualien County to replace coal. The government of offshore Penghu County plans to follow Hualien’s lead. According to ITRI’s evaluation, the cost of building an RDF-5 factory is only half that of an incinerator that handles the same volume of garbage. If 15 per cent of the 10Mt of garbage created in Taiwan every year were processed into RDF-5 fuel, it could replace about 460,000t of coal.