Environmental and Socio-economic benefits of fuel switching for Tea plantations in Sri Lanka

Tea industry is one of the main foreign exchange providing industries in Sri Lanka. In year 2006, the cultivated extent of tea was approximately 212,715 ha. However, the present situation of tea industry have to be studied well since there are issues related, such as high cost of production, lack of labour, land degradation, competition from other tea exporting countries etc.,

Firewood was used for tea drying since the colonial period. This practice was disappeared due to various socio-economic factors and tea factories shifted from firewood to diesel and fuel oil for heat generation. With the recent increase of fuel prices most of the tea factories have started converting their boilers and dryers in to firewood.

This paper presents a study which was focused on identification of environmental and socio-economic benefits of replacing diesel and furnace oil with firewood. The objective was to provide the industrial sector with successful low carbon applications, which would provide additional revenue for them and ways to create a strong position among their environmental concerned customers within the competitive market.

A literature review was carried out regarding tea industry. This provided information on current tea factories, their production capacity and energy sources. Data on cultivated extent of tea by each district, production of tea were collected from Department of Census and Statistics, Sri Lanka and analyzed using statistical software SPSS 13.0. As the next stage of the research, two leading tea manufacturing companies were selected and the following data were collected for 13 factories belonging to them. They are; amount of tea produced, quantity of diesel used prior to the conversion, fuel cost, price and quantity used of firewood. These factories were selected since they had already done fuel-switching and had the interest of becoming carbon neutral during their operations and would provide an example for other factories island wide.

Results showed that due to this fuel switching, cost of firing was brought down to US $ 0.06 per kilogram of ‘made tea’ producing which is a saving of approximately US $ 0.15 per kilogram of ‘made tea’. Further calculations showed that one company was able to save 3162 tCO2 from fuel-switching in their 9 factories and other company saved 1520 tCO2 in their 4 factories. It was further found that the required firewood was sourced from sustainably grown firewood plantations. Most of these plantations were owned by the tea manufacturing companies and only a small amount of firewood was sourced from outside suppliers. Therefore the cost of firewood is very much cheaper than fuel oil and the supply chain is also manageable. Apart from the financial benefits of using a cheaper fuel source, companies could register this as a CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) project and claim carbon credits for every ton of CO2 saved. Firewood plantations will also reduce land degradation and help improving biodiversity. Rural community is benefited since they are involved in the harvesting and supplying of firewood.

Finally it could be concluded that using firewood for tea industry with a sustainably grown firewood plantation would provide more benefits than using fossil fuel for heating.
Key words:

Mihiri Priyanwadha Gunathilake 1, Suraj Anuradha Vanniarachchy 2
1-Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
2- Nature Solutions (Private) Limited, Sri Lanka