Palm oil roadmap outlines waste to wealth management

Posted on June 12, 2011. Filed under: Waste |

Borneo Post-

KUCHING: Innovating systems to improve an industry is no easy feat, especially when it comes to a major industry such as the palm oil sector.

VARIOUS POSSIBILITIES: A worker sorts palm oil at a plantation in Malaysia. Palm oil biomass has the possibility of being converted into high-value chemicals such as ethanol and even higher-value acids such as lactic acid. — Reuters photo

One current highlight is the extraction of high-value chemicals from palm oil biomass which would otherwise go wasted and untapped.

This was one of the 23 initiatives brought up by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak earlier this year through the Special Innovation Unit (UNIK) under the Prime Minister’s Department. With the aim to achieve new wealth creation and ecosystem initiatives through innovation, this project called Waste to Wealth (W2) outlines the palm oil biomass roadmap for Malaysia.

According to UNIK’s executive vice president, Bas Melssen, who has led this project from the initial stages,  Malaysia produces approximately 70 million tonnes of biomass annually.

“Some of it is converted into energy and fertilisers. Otherwise, it is burnt or left to rot at the plantations,” Melssen said. “Consequently, the rotting biomass pollutes rivers through seepage and harms the environment when it produces methane and carbon dioxide unnecessarily.”

This would be a great waste, he noted, because palm oil biomass can be as valuable as crude palm oil. This is where the W2W project comes into crucial play.

“This waste-to-wealth innovation will provide a roadmap for the use of sustainable technologies to produce more high-margin products from the waste of the oil palm industry,” he affirmed.

“This project aims to develop the knowledge and capabilities in Malaysia to extract high-value chemicals from our biomass so that we can attract international companies to establish themselves in Malaysia. This would further create value addition in terms of knowledge, revenue and jobs.”

Melssen said that biomass has the possibility of being converted into high-value chemicals such as ethanol, and even higher-value acids such as lactic acid.

In particular, the executive vice president noted that lactic acid was widely used in a range of food applications as well as the cosmetics industry and numerous biochemical processes.

It was also used as a monomer for producing polylactic acid, which has been developed into application as biodegradable plastic.

“There have been studies by the Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund and others that estimate a potential five per cent to Malaysia’s gross domestic product if we extract high value chemicals from our biomass. After extracting these chemicals, we can still use the biomass for other purposes such as fertilisers and energy generation.”

Melssen further added that international chemical companies have expressed a desire to invest in developing capabilities by establishing demo-facilities in Malaysia.

“These facilities will be more than demo facilities – they will be commercial scale facilities. We are currently having meetings with the interested parties to form a consortium by the fourth quarter of this year.

“Malaysian institutions of higher learning and public-listed companies have also shown interest to participate in this exercise,” he concluded.

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