MANILA, Philippines — Our beaches are a lure, but these students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management were enticed to come for an entirely different reason — the lowly backyard malunggay.
Malunggay (scientific name: Moringa oleifera) is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree with leaves that can, among other things, increase lactation in nursing mothers and address the problem of malnutrition.
It has actually been dubbed “the most nutritious plant in the world,” and is also an obligatory ingredient in chicken tinola (soup).
But that’s not what Jose Torbay, 26, of Venezuela; David Salamon, 22, of France; Alex Rall, 28, of Germany, and Jesus Benavides, 29, of Mexico, are here for either.
The MIT Sloan students, who are each due to complete a master’s degree in Business Administration in June, are in the Philippines to study the international market outlook on the production of Moringa oil from malunggay seeds as a possible biofuel source.
Since their arrival in the Philippines on Jan. 10, they have been speaking with farmers in Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Western Samar and a few other provinces. They are scheduled to return to the United States on Feb. 2.
The four students’ research on Moringa oil as a business opportunity started last September at MIT.
They found a study by scientists in India expounding on Moringa oil’s properties—an iodine number better than that of regular diesel, indicating fuel stability; a cetane number indicating good ignition behavior, and a cold filter plugging point indicating suitability even in winter.
According to Salamon, the group’s spokesperson, the Philippines has distinct advantages over other countries for the mass production of Moringa oil.
He cited its geographical proximity to large markets (such as Japan, Korea, India, China and the US West Coast), the availability of labor, and large tracts of idle farmland (5 million hectares, per the Department of Agriculture).
And unlike jatropha—another plant being developed for biofuel production—Moringa will not produce toxic byproducts, Salamon said.
He said its residue could even be used to feed livestock, or help in fighting malnutrition.
At present, the Philippines does not have substantial malunggay plantations, Salamon observed. “But we hope that as this [situation] changes, the world will come to know the Philippines in this regard,” he said.
The students have presented their study to the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The Inquirer came to know of their activity through a Jan. 17 e-mail from the Biolife News Service, a DA-funded advocacy group for biotechnology.
MIT Sloan confirmed that indeed, there were MBA students in the Philippines completing their Global Entrepreneurship Laboratory (G-lab) requirements.
G-Lab is a course that enables teams of management, engineering and science students at MIT to work closely with the top management of international startup companies in solving real-world problems.
G-lab is helping students “shed the belief that the United States is the center of the world economy,” MIT Prof. Richard Locke said in a statement. “They learn through hands-on experience that business models need to be re-adapted from the classroom into the actual country and culture of the company site.”
“In the end, most students are informed by their experience, to the extent that it may directly influence the direction of their careers,” Locke said.
(After completing their studies in the Philippines and acquiring their MBA degrees at MIT Sloan, Benavides will take a job at Cemex as a manager, Rall and Torbay will become associate consultants at McKinsey & Co. in California, and Salamon will be a product manager at Microsoft.)
As it turned out, Salamon and his colleagues were linked up with the Filipino biotech company Secura International Corp., which reportedly pioneered the extraction of pure oil from malunggay seeds.
The suitability of Secura’s own Moringa oil for use as biofuel is being tested in the United States. The results will be known within weeks, Salamon said.
He said the first large Moringa plantation in the Philippines would most likely be set up in Calbayog, Western Samar, as a result of a Jan. 22 memorandum of agreement between engineer Danilo Manayaga, Secura president and CEO, and Calbayog Mayor Mel Senen S. Sarmiento.
Manayaga said the MIT Sloan students were heartened by the eagerness of Filipino farmers to start in the malunggay business.
“They [students] were really fascinated by the scenery we passed on our trips, and were moved by the overwhelming acceptance of this project,” he told the Inquirer.
In an e-mail, the four students said 14 varieties of malunggay had spread around the world from their original habitat in the Himalayas.
But Moringa oil is not widely available anywhere at this time, Salamon said.
And while malunggay plantations can be found in India and some African countries, there are as yet no large-scale plans for extracting the oil because the leaves and green pods are eaten there, he said.
The students said the Philippines was the only country they knew of with “large-scale plans” of producing Moringa oil from malunggay seeds.
They also said ricelands would not be suitable for malunggay plantations, “so Moringa would not interfere with the food chain from this point of view.”
The students estimated a potential overseas demand for Moringa oil reaching “several billion liters per year over the next few years, depending on what industry we are looking at.”
Salamon said his group based this estimate on industry research as well as conversations with potential clients.
(No copy of the group’s study was provided. Patricia Favreau of MIT Sloan’s Office of Media Relations said the final paper with recommendations might take longer to put together.)
The prospect of developing billions of liters of biofuel for the world’s consumption has not always been viewed favorably, or optimistically.
Jean Ziegler, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to food, said biofuel could have a catastrophic impact on world hunger.
He called the conversion of food crops into biofuel “a crime against humanity,” saying it would lead to food shortages and price jumps that would push millions of impoverished people to starvation.
But according to Salamon, extracting oil from malunggay seeds for the world market is a project that strongly aligns national, social and business interests.
And this makes the project all the more fulfilling for them: “In our future careers, we will remember this as an example where public and private sector interests can coincide and work together.”
Per the Biolife News Service release, the MIT Sloan students said that with a 10-ha malunggay farm, a farmer could earn P2 million during the first year, P3 million in the next three years, and P4 million in the next four years. In addition, the meal, or sapal, of malunggay seeds may be used as livestock feed.
(The revenue computations were based on the business proposal offered by Secura and the estimated yields of malunggay seeds per hectare of land.)
Comparatively, a farmer could earn P1,440,000 a year planting corn, or P814,000 a year planting coconuts.
In the oil extraction plants that will be set up alongside the malunggay plantations, the labor force per manufacturing plant is estimated at 100 employees. By 2010, around 3,000 men and women would be employed in an estimated 30 manufacturing sites.
But here’s a whopper: The students said an extraction facility that would pass European and US standards would cost at least P250 million.
Salamon recalled how malunggay’s nutritive properties began to be known in 1999, when it was used in Africa to fight malnutrition.
He said its nutritive properties, such as beta carotene, and the presence of antioxidants such as alpha-tocopherol made it suitable for the production of high-end health products.
He added that malunggay could also be used as an active ingredient in beauty products such as emollients.
(First of two parts)
From time to time, we hear about attempts to rehabilitate and finally use the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. We also continue to hear reports that the end of the world is at hand, but that has happened yet, either.
Why some people insist upon trying to revive the BNPP instead of, say, putting up a new nuclear power plant from scratch somewhere else remains a mystery. Perhaps, to end this three-decade fixation on a plant that never produced a single watt of electricity despite the billions spent to build and pay for it, the government should just dismantle the facility immediately.
This is not a treatise against the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity. On the contrary, given our continued dependence on imported petroleum for our energy needs, any effort by the government to wean us from foreign oil and to add new power sources to our financially and environmentally unhealthy supply mix should be encouraged.
Any effort, that is, except the one to revive the BNPP. Given the money-sucking history of the Bataan plant—to say nothing of safety concerns because of its dangerous location, outdated technology and suspect structural integrity—even studies on its rehabilitation and use like the ones now being proposed in Congress should be discouraged as a waste of time, scarce resources and, yes, energy.
Indeed, the world over, nuclear energy is once again enjoying a revival. Thanks to the unpredictability of petroleum prices, the environmental dangers posed by burning oil and the dwindling of underground reserves, many countries have rediscovered nuclear power and are racing to build new power plants that use the fuel that once made Three Mile Island and Chernobyl household names.
In Asia, China is building eight new nuclear power plants with a combined output of 7,300 megawatts, while India is adding 2,700 MW to its mix by putting up five nuclear plants. Vietnam and Indonesia plan to add 4,000 MW each using new nuclear plants by 2020.
In a complete turnaround from its former environmentally incorrect image, nuclear power is now also being bandied about as the solution to global warming. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that 32 new nuclear power plants have to be built each year from now until 2050 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half.
The key word—for the Philippines, at least—is “new.” And the BNPP is so old and very likely so obsolete that it could be compared to using a 50-year-old car to compete on a contemporary racetrack: an exercise that is costly, inefficient, dangerous and ultimately idiotic.
* * *
The latest proposal to revive the BNPP comes from Congress, where a bill to fund studies on the mothballed plant is undergoing deliberations. The proposed law authored by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco seeks government funding for “complete technical, economic, environmental, and financial feasibility studies for electricity generation” using the plant.
Prior to that, in the teeth of last year’s upward spiraling of world oil prices, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes proposed allocating $800 million to put the 621-MW plant onstream, purportedly upon the recommendation of the IAEA. Then world oil prices plunged, and nothing further was heard about Reyes’ proposal.
True, the current Congress proposal seeks a mere P10 million for the creation of a task force that will conduct a feasibility study on the plant’s rehabilitation and use. Furthermore, Cojuangco said his bill institutes a “validation process” that will either affirm or reject the soundness of rehabilitating and using the mothballed plant, with a provision that the BNPP be immediately demolished should the validation show adverse findings.
Still, it’s not as if the viability of using the Bataan plant hasn’t been studied—and basically recommended for dismantling—before. And it definitely isn’t the first time that good money has been attempted to be thrown after all the bad that was sunk into the BNPP, which has entered the history books as the biggest single debt incurred by the Philippine government.
During a hearing on the Cojuangco proposal before the House appropriations committee, a former top consultant on the BNPP, Nicanor Perlas, disclosed that the Aquino administration commissioned a $9.5-million study conducted by 50 nuclear experts from different parts of the world which discovered that the plant had 40,000 defects. Perlas, a former technical consultant to both the Senate ad hoc committee on the BNPP and a presidential commission on the facility, said copies of the study are available at the Senate and Office of the President.
“The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant had four times the average [defects] for nuclear power plant construction. In addition, the earthquake and volcanic hazards of the site had never been satisfactorily resolved until today. It will be catastrophic, should the plant [be] operated,” Perlas told the congressman. But Cojuangco barred Perlas from further citing the Aquino-era study, saying he was merely spouting hearsay because neither he nor Congress had copies of the document.
In a statement distributed to reporters after the hearing, Perlas said the visiting experts concluded that the BNPP cannot be operated safely and efficiently. It appears that this study, on top of the Aquino administration’s aversion to any project from the previous Marcos era, provided the excuse not to use the power plant after its completion more than two decades ago.
However, even if it can be argued that the rehabilitation of the BNPP needs more study, the cost of getting the plant online after all these years is definitely prohibitive. And given the humongous amounts already spent for the Philippines’ all-time biggest white elephant, allocating even a peso more seems scandalous.
Manila Standard Today
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has thrown its weight behind the opposition to rehabilitating the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
In a pastoral statement, the CBCP urged Congress to “completely and irrevocably reject the opening of the nuclear plant as the most dangerous and expensive way to generate electricity.”
The statement was issued by the CBCP president, Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo.
“Multiple risks and the possibility of corruption outweigh dreamed benefits. We recommend with other anti-BNPP congressmen and the Greenpeace Forum that the mothballed facility in Morong, Bataan, be dismantled as its revival will be most hazardous to health and life of the people,” read the CBCP statement.
The power plant was built by the Marcos regime in response to the Middle East oil embargo in the 1970s.
The $2.3-billion project, designed to generate 621 megawatts of electricity, was scrapped by the Aquino administration in 1986.
The Diocese of Balanga headed by Bishop Socrates Villegas earlier in the week staged a prayer rally against plans by some congressmen led by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco to rehabilitate the nuclear plant to stave off an energy crisis.
The CBCP also strongly opposed the use of a coal-fired power plant as source of energy in Iloilo province and other parts of the country.
“We recommend the implementation of the approved bill on the use of renewable energy, such as solar, wind and water as safe sources of electricity,” the CBCP said.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is in no rush to reactivate the nuclear power plant.
Malacañang Thursday said it would first await the study and series of consultations being done by the Department of Energy (DOE) before coming up with a firm position on whether to reopen the country’s only nuclear facility.
“The President will never compromise safety over speed,” Anthony Golez, deputy presidential spokesperson, told reporters in a briefing.
But Golez said that should the DOE study and consultations recommend reactivating the power plant, “then we would find no reason why we would have to delay.”
Asked if reopening the BNPP was a priority of Ms Arroyo, he said: “We know that her priority is that we should be energy-sufficient in the next few years.”
Golez said the government had “a lot of programs” to achieve this goal and that the BNPP was just one of them.
Last year, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said the government was seriously considering reopening the BNPP, noting that it had spent $2.3 billion to build the facility, which had generated not a kilowatt of electricity.
Reyes said a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had checked the facility and had pegged rehabilitation cost at $800 million for at least five years.
If it becomes operational, the BNPP will be one of the most dangerous nuclear power plants in the world, Greenpeace said Thursday.
The group said the BNPP, which has a light water reactor made by Westinghouse, did not conform to the current safety standards of the IAEA.
Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigns Manager for the Philippines, said the design of the BNPP was not only outdated but also faulty.
The BNPP’s compliance to IAEA nuclear plant construction and site selection protocols were already in doubt even before the BNPP was finished, Baconguis said.
Tessa de Ryck, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Nuclear campaigner, also said the BNPP was never evaluated according to standards of the IAEA which were raised after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
The standard for nuclear reactors is “Generation 3,” which has double containment for its reactor and passive safety systems, according to De Ryck. The BNPP has a “Generation 2” reactor.
“We cannot be sure whether the BNPP can be upgraded to meet current reactor standards,” De Ryck said.
She said Westinghouse reactors were “breaking down with alarming regularity” because of design defects, including cracks in the main steam turbines, deterioration of the steam generator tube, and the reactor pressure valve turning brittle.
De Ryck also cited problems of other nuclear plants designed by Westinghouse and similar to the BNPP in Brazil and South Korea, which were plagued by outages and leakages of radioactive water.
Study by experts
A study commissioned by the Senate ad hoc committee on the BNPP and the Presidential Commission on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant found the nuclear plant defective.
Environmentalist Nicanor Perlas, a technical consultant to the study, said that the study showed that the BNPP could not be operated safely because of the defective quality assurance program.
Perlas, who was not allowed to discuss the study’s contents at the hearing in the House appropriations committee on Wednesday, said in a statement that the study was completed during the term of President Corazon Aquino. It cost $9.5 million and was conducted by 50 nuclear experts.
Perlas said the team found 40,000 defects and that it would cost $1.2 billion to $1.54 billion in 1990 rates to repair the plant. The repairs would take six and a half years.
Should the repairs be conducted, there was no guarantee that the BNPP would be safely operated because the quality assurance program was so problematic that the plant’s safety may never be established, Perlas said.
He also said James Keppler, a former official of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the review team found “pervasive and significant” defects in the plant’s design, construction, quality assurance and start-up testing.
“The identified deficiencies are so pervasive and severe that the plant cannot be expected to operate safely and without undue risk to public health and safety,” he quoted Keppler as saying.
Where’s the study?
Walden Bello, president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, said he was appalled that those pushing for the reopening of the BNPP seemed to be unaware of studies that thumbed down the facility’s operation.
Cojuangco said he had made several attempts to get hold of the study that Perlas was referring to, but added no one had so far been able to produce one.
He asked Perlas to give the title of the study and inform the committee where it could be obtained. Reports from Dona Pazzibugan, Alcuin Papa Christian V. Esguerra and Leila B. Salaverria