Palm Oil has Created Massive Potential for Biomass Energy in Malaysia
Palm Oil by Lou Gould @flickr
Malaysia has been one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of palm oil for the last forty years. Resulting in great environmental controversy, the palm oil industry has also built economies, seen explosive demand increases, found its way into a staggering range of products around the world and lately, struggled to become sustainable.
Under the global spotlight, almost every facet of the palm oil production process has seen intense scrutiny. The push towards sustainable palm oil has seen pressure for ethical and environmental practice in land acquisition, forest clearing, supply chain management, employee welfare, community health and social responsibility, but attention is only recently being given to the treatment and handling of the plant matter left behind after palm oil is harvested. What’s been discovered is a great potential for renewable energy in Malaysia: biomass energy.
Approximately 70 percent of the mass of an oil palm’s fruit bunch is discarded after the oil is extracted from it, leaving behind dry husks, palm kernel shells and other agricultural waste. In the business of creating palm oil, that waste is called POME (palm oil mill effluent). In the business of using this waste to create renewable energy, that matter is called biomass, and it’s a sustainable source of renewable energy.
It’s estimated that around 58 million tons of POME is produced in Malaysia annually. That figure represents a huge energy potential – POME and other biomass can be burnt to generate heat and electricity or fermented to make combustible gas.
As of 2014, Malaysia had harnessed 56MW of biomass and biogas power (total installed solar for that year was 159MW) and that number is steadily increasing. With an estimated capacity for 2400MW of biomass in Malaysia and a collection of generous national tax incentives for green energy production and consumption, the opportunity for biomass in Malaysia is great. Truly, biomass could mark the path towards more sustainable palm oil and towards a Malaysia with better energy security, fewer fossil fuel emissions and a healthier environment.
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Palm oil mills suffer from blatant resource inefficiencies today. They can when designed correctly unleash renewable energy at enormously high energy efficiency levels arising from the unique characteristics of their operating parameters.
We couldn’t have said it better Energywise! If the excess chaff from palm oil mills was put to good use, Malaysia could wave goodbye to coal, mega-hydroelectric dams and then some!