Develop Malaysia, develop palm oil biomass, develop bioenergy: the primer

July 7, 2013 |

malaysiaIf palm oil has been key to the Malaysian economy, palm oil biomass may be key to the next steps, say Dovre Group’s Dr. Ronald Zwart in a detailed national survey.

By Dr. Ronald Zwart – Sr VP, BioRenewables, Dovre Group

Oil palm biomass 

Oil palm plantations in Malaysia cover close to 5 million hectares, out of 16 million worldwide. The plantations yield crude palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake — traditional ingredients for a wide variety of food, feed and nonfood products.

Apart from these, a number of other biomass fractions are produced from the palm oil trees, and are detailed in Table 1.

While production has focused on CPO and PKO as commercially the most important products, the other biomass fractions mentioned also do have many different applications. This ranges from fuel for the local palm mill boiler (PKS, EFB) to mulching and fertilizer agent (EFB, OPF, OPT) to the production of packaging and building materials (OPT, EFB and others), and for soil enhancement and as a fuel for local and remote palm mills. Still, significant amounts of biomass have been left idle or can be mobilized by improving the efficiency of its current uses.

Table 1. Annual oil palm biomass production base

Oil Palm Biomass Fraction  Yield*
EFB – Empty fruit bunches 6.7
PKS – Palm kernel shells 4.0
OPF – Oil Palm Fronds 47.7
OPT – Oil Palm Trunks 13.0
MF – Mesocarp Fiber 7.1
POME – Palm Oil Mill Effluent 3.0

* in dry weight million metric tons per year (dw Mmtons/yr)

The biomass markets

Biomass has attracted increasing interest in recent years as an alternative feedstock for the production of energy, chemicals and other biobased products. In particular the use of biomass for the production of biofuels and bioenergy in the form of electricity and heat has ignited the development of an entirely new market.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions appeared on the international agendas in the 1990s when awareness was growing about the role of gaseous molecules like CO2, NOx and methane in causing climate change. In the EU, this is the most important argument behind the introduction of renewable energy initiatives and the ambitious target to use at least 20% renewable energy in 2020.

Security of energy supply

While the EU energy market is about replacing fossil resources with renewable ones, the Asian situation is very different. According to the IEA the Asian continent is expected to roughly double its demand for energy in the next 20 years. For China and India spectacular increases are expected from 1,970 to 3,827 and from 595 Mtoe to 1,287, respectively. Similarly, energy demand in Malaysia will grow from 73 to 118 Mtoe. The ASEAN group of countries will go from 513 to 903 Mtoe. These stunning figures imply that renewable energy sources, including biomass, will be needed in addition to fossil fuels to meet the increasing demand for energy. It will be part of the portfolio to secure energy supply. The use of biomass to meet additional demand has very different market dynamics compared to energy replacement. 

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