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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        21  May 2011

Palm biomass energizes Malaysia

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Palm biomass waste previously is often perceived as a bane to many oil palm mill operators.

Every year, millers incur huge costs to transport and dispose empty fruit bunches (EFB), palm shells and mesocarp fibre after the process of crushing and extraction of palm oil and palm kernel oil from the fresh fruit bunches (FFB).

This situation, however, will no longer persist as many oil palm plantation owners with mills in Malaysia are now actively looking at palm biomass waste as feedstock for them to set up “green” renewable energy projects; thus creating an additional lucrative income for the operators.

One such company in the forefront of utilising palm biomass waste to generate renewable energy and power projects is Felda Global Group, which is also the world's largest plantation group.

Of the Group's 15.3 million tonnes FFB which goes into its mills annually, 3.36 million tonnes of EFB, 1.83 million tonnes of mesocarp and 760,000 tonnes of palm shells are accumulated. Some 6.1 million tonnes of old palm trunks are also derived from harvesting and 3,000 tonnes from replanting activities.

In addition, its mills have palm oil mill effluent ponds which could also be used to capture methane gases to generate biogas.

It is said that Felda could easily generate an additional income of RM500,000 per mill by just selling the biomass waste like palm shells and mesocarp fibre alone.

Given Felda's abundant biomass resources and capability to convert them into renewable energy and power initiatives, it is inevitable for the group to venture into such good prospect and sustainable energy ventures, says Felda Holdings Bhd head of biomass Ahmad Nor Azman Jamin. To date, the group has 56 biogas plants, two power plants, six compost plants, two mini gasifier plants and one fuel pellet plant all utilising biomass waste as the feedstocks.

Sahabat biomass power plant in Lahad Datu, Sabah, set up in 2001, is Felda's first EFB-based clean development mechanism (CDM) project in Malaysia and also the first in the world.

(CDM is a United Nations sponsored agreement under the Kyoto Protocol whereby industrialised countries finance the reduction of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing nations and can also purchase certified emission reduction (CER) or carbon credit.)

“Many rural sites in Sabah have no connections to the national electricity grid. Our rationale is replace the diesel usage with EFP-resources to generate 7.2 MW electricity and also 16 tonnes of steam for Felda mills there,” says Nor Azman.

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