Thailand's first biomass power plant, fuelled by the fast-growing taramba tree and operated by A Plus Power Co, is expected to be operational early next year.
Workers supervise the loading of taramba chips at the biomass plant near Wat Phra BatNam Phu, in Lop Buri province.
The 1.8-megawatt gasification biomass plant started its development in 2008, and aims to help debt-ridden farmers living nearby the hospital, said founder Phra Alongkot Dikkapanyo.
The company is wholly owned by Thammarak Foundation of Wat Phra Bat Nam Phu, a temple built at the foot of a small mountain in Lop Buri, 150 kilometres north of Bangkok, where a sanctuary-cum-hospital for HIV-infected patients is located.
Power sales will generate revenue to fund operations for the largest HIV hospital in Thailand.
Phra Alongkot, who left a promising career in engineering at the Agriculture Ministry at 26 to become a monk, initiated a project to produce power from community waste but later changed to taramba biomass because it creates jobs for HIV patients, mitigates climate change and reduces the debt of farmers participating in tree plantation.
The company currently owns a taramba (Leucaena leucocephala) plantation covering around 6,000 rai. Another 1,000 rai are owned by participating farmers in the scheme.
"No one was interested the first year, and the few that were had no money to grow trees," said Phra Alongkot.
The foundation promises to help clear the debts of farmers joining the project, and offers a certain portion of its budget as an expense to grow the trees.
One rai of tarambas will normally produce around six tonnes of logs over 14 months, or one crop year.
The company guarantees 700 baht per tonne of taramba. Leftover leaves can be sold to animal feed production plants at about 6,000 baht per tonne.
Tarambas are in the nut family, so their roots add nutrients to the soil.
"We have over 1,000 patients including their relatives to take care of, so we spend about 6-7 million baht per month. Moreover, at least one patient per day comes to the temple for treatment," said Phra Alongkot.
In addition to helping fund the hospital, the plant will also create jobs for patients without serious symptoms, and those in nearby communities.
The plant is still in a test run as it waits for its operation licence from the Department of Industrial Works.
In the coming years, the company also plans to register as a credit carbon trader under the clean development mechanism scheme.