By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press
Cuba is investing in its ethanol refineries with hopes of increasing its production of the renewable fuel fivefold as it bets on growing ethanol demand in the face of rising petroleum prices, a leading sugar expert said Wednesday.
Luis Galvez of the Cuban Research Institute for Sugar Cane Derivatives said by 2010 Cuba hoped to be producing 500 million liters (about 130 million gallons) of ethanol annually, which he said would be a fivefold increase of what it produces now.
Galvez spoke to about 200 representatives from a dozen countries at an international congress on sugar and its derivatives. He did not give a current production figure for Cuban ethanol, but did say the island had 17 distilleries capable of producing up to 180 million liters (about 48 million gallons) annually.
To increase production, Galvez said, Cuba must modernize 11 of those existing plants and build seven additional new ones. He did not say how much the improvements would cost.
“We are going to significantly improve the capacity we have now,” Galvez said.
Peter Baron, president of the London-based International Sugar Organization, told the sugar congress on Tuesday that Cuba, which gets most of its petroleum on favorable terms from its political ally Venezuela, could benefit by producing ethanol for its own use.
Cuba has been looking for alternative uses for sugar in recent years as the crop has become less important for the island’s economy, and harvests have dropped dramatically.
Cuba’s 2004-2005 sugar harvest was dramatically lower than in recent years, estimated at 1.5 million metric tons.
No figures have been released for the 2005-2006 harvest that wrapped up in recent months, but they are believed to be even lower.