There are two outlooks in our thirst for energy. Firstly, our need for power is sure to grow. In Malaysia, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that energy demand will double by 2040. The second is our continuing need to explore and utilise smart, innovative solutions for a more sustainable energy landscape. The recent launch of biogas power plants at Sime Darby plantations at Flemington and Hadapan provide admirable examples of how technology in partnership can help to address both.
The Flemington and Hadapan power plants, both located at Layang-Layang, Johor and Bagan Datuk, Perak, were developed as a joint venture between Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and Sime Darby Bhd. Each power plant delivers 1.6 MW of sustainable, renewable energy generated from the bio-waste produced at palm oil plantations. By utilising palm oil mill effluent (POME), a polluting by-product of palm oil production, this innovative energy project not only helps deliver sustainable power generation, but takes a step towards a more sustainable Malaysia.
Malaysia’s growing thirst for energy must be balanced against growing recognition of the impact of our activities on our environment. Increasingly our understanding of these challenges has led to ambitious targets to address them.
Malaysia’s renewable energy plan targets renewable energy to account for 24% of the energy mix by 2050. In a nation which boasts 4.49 million hectares of palm oil plantations, and accounts for around 39% of global palm oil production, biogas solutions could play an important role in meeting that target.
As a country working towards developed nation status, balancing economic growth with environmental considerations is equally important. The nation has targeted to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity of GDP by 45% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. In supporting the attainment of that goal, innovative biogas power plants can also contribute a sometimes overlooked but crucial secondary benefit.
POME is an undesirable yet unavoidable side effect of the production of crude palm oil. Such a by-product is both environmentally polluting and challenging for producers to deal with. Malaysia’s palm oil harvest generated around 85 million metrics tonnes of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) annually. Yet for every tonne of FFB processed, around 0.65 m3 POME is generated. That means potentially over 55 million m3 of POME is produced each year.
POME is often kept in open lagoons, releasing harmful gases that contribute towards the environmental footprint of plantations. Yet the nature of that heavily organic gas is the very opportunity that biogas power plants can exploit. Studies estimate that a palm oil mill processing 60 tonnes/hr could generate a net profit of RM3.8 million (~US$905,000) annually from electricity generated from captured biogas. That’s not only reducing the environmental burden on the planet, but offering a more sustainable business model while building a more sustainable world.
Sime Darby Plantations today account for 5% of the world’s palm oil output, placing them in the perfect position to help support and develop the benefits of biogas technologies. With over 3.2 MW of renewable power generated at the recently launched plants, these landmark facilities not only help tackle the challenge of POME pollution, but are also proof that investing in renewable energy sources can be a commercially successful, high-yielding venture.
By working in partnership, national electricity provider TNB and Sime Darby Bhd’s joint venture presents a collaboration which helps meet the increasing energy needs of a rapidly growing nation, while powering a more sustainable Malaysia.