Biomass residue from palm oil industry are attractive renewable energy fuel in Southeast Asia. The abundance of these biomass resources is increasing with the fast development of palm oil industry in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. In the Palm Oil value chain there is an overall surplus of by-products and the utilisation rate of these by-products is low.
Palm kernel shells (or PKS) are the shell fractions left after the nut has been removed after crushing in the palm oil mill. Palm kernel shells are a fibrous material and can be easily handled in bulk directly from the product line to the end use. Large and small shell fractions are mixed with dust-like fractions and small fibres.
Moisture content in kernel shells is low compared to other biomass residues with different sources suggesting values between 11% and 13%. Palm kernel shells contain residues of Palm Oil, which accounts for its slightly higher heating value than average lignocellulosic biomass. Compared to other residues from the industry, palm kernel shells are a good quality biomass fuel with uniform size distribution, easy handling, easy crushing, and limited biological activity due to low moisture content.
Press fibre and kernel shell generated by the palm oil mills are traditionally used as solid fuels for steam boilers. The steam generated is used to run turbines for electricity production. These two solid fuels alone are able to generate more than enough energy to meet the energy demands of a palm oil mill.
Most palm oil mills in the region are self-sufficient in terms of energy by making use of kernel shells and mesocarp fibers in cogeneration. The demand for palm kernel shells has increased considerably in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand resulting in price close to that of coal. Nowadays, cement industries are using palm kernel shells to replace coal mainly because of CDM benefits.
PKS has also emerged as a hot biomass commodity in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in South Korea and Japan, where PKS is being used to power huge biomass power plants. PKS is also getting traction in Europe as an attractive alternative fuel.
The problems associated with the burning of these solid fuels are the emissions of dark smoke and the carry-over of partially carbonized fibrous particulates due to incomplete combustion of the fuels can be tackled by commercially-proven technologies in the form of high-pressure boilers.
Dual-fired boilers capable of burning either diesel oil or natural gas are the most suitable for burning palm Oil waste since they could also facilitate the use of POME-derived biogas as a supplementary fuel. However, there is a great scope for introduction of high-efficiency CHP systems in the industry which will result in substantial supply of excess power to the public grid.
It is estimated that Indonesia produces 146.7 million tons of biomass per year, equivalent to about 470 GJ/y. Sources of biomass energy in Indonesia are scattered all over the country, but the biggest biomass energy potential in concentrated scale can be found in the Island of Kalimantan, Sumatera, Irian Jaya and Sulawesi.
Studies estimate the electricity generation potential from the roughly 150 Mt of biomass residues produced per year to be about 50 GW or equivalent to roughly 470 GJ/year. These studies assume that the main source of biomass energy in Indonesia will be rice residues with a technical energy potential of 150 GJ/year.
Other potential biomass sources are rubber wood residues (120 GJ/year), sugar mill residues (78 GJ/year), palm oil residues (67 GJ/year), and less than 20 GJ/year in total from plywood and veneer residues, logging residues, sawn timber residues, coconut residues, and other agricultural wastes.
Sustainable and renewable natural resources such as biomass can supply potential raw materials for energy conversion. In Indonesia, they comprise variable-sized wood from forests (i.e. natural forests, plantations and community forests that commonly produce small-diameter logs used as firewood by local people), woody residues from logging and wood industries, oil-palm shell waste from crude palm oil factories, coconut shell wastes from coconut plantations, as well as skimmed coconut oil and straw from rice cultivation.
The major crop residues to be considered for power generation in Indonesia are palm oil, sugar processing and rice processing residues. Currently, 67 sugar mills are in operation in Indonesia and eight more are under construction or planned. The mills range in size of milling capacity from less than 1,000 tons of cane per day to 12,000 tons of cane per day. Current sugar processing in Indonesia produces 8 millions MT bagasse and 11.5 millions MT canes top and leaves.
There are 39 palm oil plantations and mills currently operating in Indonesia, and at least eight new plantations are under construction. Most palm oil mills generate combined heat and power from fibres and palm kernel shells, making the operations energy self–efficient. However, the use of palm oil residues can still be optimized in more energy efficient systems.
Other potential source of biomass energy can also come from municipal wastes. The quantity of city or municipal wastes in Indonesia is comparable with other big cities of the world. Most of these wastes are originated from household in the form of organic wastes from the kitchen. At present the wastes are either burned at each household or collected by the municipalities and later to be dumped into a designated dumping ground or landfill.
Although the government is providing facilities to collect and clean all these wastes, however, due to the increasing number of populations coupled with inadequate number of waste treatment facilities in addition to inadequate amount of allocated budget for waste management, most of big cities in Indonesia had been suffering from the increasing problem of waste disposals.
With Indonesia’s recovery from the Asian financial crisis of 1998, energy consumption has grown rapidly in past decade. The priority of the Indonesian energy policy is to reduce oil consumption and to use renewable energy. For power generation, it is important to increase electricity power in order to meet national demand and to change fossil fuel consumption by utilization of biomass wastes. The development of renewable energy is one of priority targets in Indonesia.
The current pressure for cost savings and competitiveness in Indonesia’s most important biomass-based industries, along with the continually growing power demands of the country signal opportunities for increased exploitation of biomass wastes for power generation.
During the production of crude palm oil, large amount of waste and by-products are generated. The solid waste streams consist of empty fruit bunch (EFB), mesocarp fruit fibers (MF) and palm kernel shells (PKS). Reuse of these waste streams in applications for heat, steam, compost and to lesser extent power generation are practised widely across Southeast Asia.
POME or Palm Oil Mill Effluent is an underutilized liquid waste stream from palm oil mills which is generated during the palm oil extraction/decanting process and often seen as a serious environmental issue but it is a very good source for biomethane production. Therefore, discharge of POME is subject to increasingly stringent regulations in many palm oil-producing nations.
Anaerobic Digestion of POME
POME is an attractive feedstock for biomethane production and is abundantly available in all palm oil mills. Hence, it ensures continuous supply of substrates at no or low cost for biogas production, positioning it as a great potential source for biomethane production. (Chin May Ji, 2013).
Palm oil mill effluent is a colloidal suspension containing 95-96% water, 0.6-0.7% oil and 4-5% total solids, which include 2-4% suspended solids. Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) generally ranges between 25,000 and 65,714 mg/L, Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) ranges between 44,300 and 102,696 mg/L.
Most palm oil mills and refineries have their own treatment systems for POME, which is easily amenable to biodegradation due to its high organic content. The treatment system usually consists of anaerobic and aerobic ponds. (Sulaiman, 2013).
Open pond systems are still commonly applied. Although relatively cheap to install, these system often fail to meet discharge requirements (due to lack of operational control, long retention time, silting and short circuiting issues).
Moreover, the biogas produced during the anaerobic decomposition of POME in open pond systems is not recovered for utilization. The produced gas dissipates into the atmosphere where it causes adverse environment effects (due to the fact that CH4 is a twenty times stronger greenhouse gas then CO2 (Chin May Ji, 2013).
Biogas from POME can be carried out using a number of various technologies ranging in cost and complexity. The closed-tank anaerobic digester system with continuous stirred-tank reactor (CSTR), the methane fermentation system employing special microorganisms and the reversible flow anaerobic baffled reactor (RABR) system are among the technologies offered by technology providers. (Malaysian Palm Oil Board, 2015).
Biogas production largely depends on the method deployed for biomass conversion and capture of the biogas, and can, therefore, approximately range from 5.8 to 12.75 kg of CH4 per cubic meter of POME. Application of enclosed anaerobic digestion will significantly increase the quality of the effluent/ discharge stream as well as the biogas composition, as mentioned in table below.
Table: Performance comparison between open and closed digester systems
Open digester system
Closed anaerobic digester
COD removal efficiency (%)
Released to atmosphere
Methane yield (kg CH4/kg COD removed)
Methane content (%)
Solid discharge (g/L)
*This table has been reproduced from (Alawi Sulaiman, 2007)
A closed anaerobic system is capable of producing and collecting consistently high quality of methane rich biogas from POME. Typical raw biogas composition will be: 50-60 % CH4, 40-50 % CO2, saturated with water and with trace amounts of contaminants (H2S, NH3, volatiles, etc.).
Biomethane Potential in Southeast Asia
The amount of biomethane (defined as methane produced from biomass, with properties close to natural gas) that can be potentially produced from POME (within the Southeast Asian region) exceeds 2.25 billion cubic meter of biomethane (on a yearly basis).
Especially Indonesia and Malaysia, as key producers within the palm oil industry, could generate significant quantities of biomethane. An impression of the biomethane potential of these countries including other feedstock sources is being highlighted below (VIV Asia, 2015).
Indonesia (4.35 billion m3 of biomethane):
25 billion m3 of biomethane from Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME).
The Asian Pacific Biogas Alliance estimates that the potential of conversion of biomass to biomethane is sufficient to replace 25 percent of the natural gas demand by renewable biogas (Asian Pacific Biogas Alliance, 2015).
To sum up, due to the high fraction of organic materials, POME has a large energetic potential. By unlocking the energetic potential of these streams through conversion/ digesting and capture of biomethane, plant owners have the opportunity to combine waste management with a profitable business model.
Co-Authors: H. Dekker and E.H.M. Dirkse (DMT Environmental Technology)
Alawi Sulaiman, Z. B. (2007). Biomethane production from pal oil mill effluent (POME) in a semi-commercial closed anaerobic digester. Seminar on Sustainable Palm Biomass initiatives. Japan Society on Promotion of Science (JSPS).
Asia Biogas Group. (2015, 08 15). Retrieved from Asia Biogas : http://www.asiabiogas.com
Asian Pacific Biogas Alliance. (2015). Biogas Opportunities in South East Asia. Asian Pacific Biogas Alliance/ICESN.
Chin May Ji, P. P. (2013). Biogas from palm oil mill effluent (POME): Opportunities and challenges from Malysia’s perspective. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews , 717-726.
Malaysian Palm Oil Board. (2015, 08 26). Biogas capture and CMD project implementation for palm oil mills. Retrieved from Official Portal Of Malaysian Palm Oild Board:
Sulaiman, N. A. (2013). The Oil Palm Wastes in Malaysia. In M. D. Matovic, “Biomass Now – Sustainable Growth and Use”. InTech.
VIV Asia. (2015, 08 26). The international platform from feed to food in Asia. Retrieved from http://www.vivasia.nl
Note: This is the first article in the special series on ‘Sustainable Utilization of POME-based Biomethane’ by Langerak et al of DMT Environmental Technology (Holland)
Southeast Asia, with its abundant bioenergy resources, holds a strategic position in the global biomass energy atlas. There is immense biomass energy potential in Southeast Asian countries due to plentiful supply of diverse forms of biomass wastes, such as agricultural residues, woody biomass, animal wastes, municipal solid waste, etc. The rapid economic growth and industrialization in the region has accelerated the drive to implement the latest waste-to-energy technologies to tap the unharnessed potential of biomass resources.
Southeast Asia is a big producer of agricultural and wood products which, when processed in industries, produces large amounts of biomass residues. According to conservative estimates, the amount of biomass residues generated from sugar, rice and palm oil mills is more than 200-230 million tons per year which corresponds to cogeneration potential of 16-19 GW.
Rice mills in the region produce 38 million tonnes of rice husk as solid residue which is a good fuel for producing heat and power. Sugar industry is an integral part of the industrial scenario in Southeast Asia accounting for 7% of sugar production worldwide. Sugar mills in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam generate 34 million tonnes of bagasse every year. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand account for 90% of global palm oil production leading to the generation of 27 million tonnes of waste per annum in the form of empty fruit bunches (EFBs), fibers and shells, as well as liquid effluent.
Woody biomass is a good energy resource due to presence of large number of forests in Southeast Asia. Apart from natural forests, non-industrial plantations of different types (e.g. coconut, rubber and oil palm plantations, fruit orchards, and trees in homesteads and gardens) have gained recognition as important sources of biomass. In addition, the presence of a large number of wood processing industries also generates significant quantity of wood wastes. The annual production of wood wastes in the region is estimated to be more than 30 million m3.
The prospects of biogas power generation are also high in the region, thanks to presence of well-established food-processing and dairy industries. Another important biomass resource is contributed by municipal solid wastes in heavily populated urban areas. In addition, there are increasing efforts both commercially and promoted by governments to develop biomass energy systems for efficient biofuel production, e.g. bio-diesel from palm oil.
Biomass resources, particularly residues from forests, wood processing, agricultural crops and agro-processing, are under-utilised in Southeast Asian countries. There is an urgent need to utilize biomass wastes for commercial electricity and heat production to cater to the needs of the industries as well as urban and rural communities.
Southeast Asian countries are yet to make optimum use of the additional power generation potential from biomass waste resources which could help them to partially overcome the long-term problem of energy supply. Technologies for biomass utilization which are at present widely used in Southeast counties need to be improved towards best practice by making use of the latest trends in the biomass energy sector.
The palm kernel shells used to be initially dumped in the open thereby impacting the environment negatively without any economic benefit. However, over time, palm oil mills in Southeast Asia and elsewhere realized their brilliant properties as a fuel and that they can easily replace coal as an industrial fuel for generating heat and steam.
Palm kernel shells is an abundant biomass resource in Southeast Asia
Nowadays, the primary use of palm kernel shells is as a boiler fuel supplementing the fibre which is used as primary fuel. In recent years kernel shells are extensively sold as alternative fuel around the world. Besides selling shells in bulk, there are companies that produce fuel briquettes from shells which may include partial carbonisation of the material to improve the combustion characteristics.
Palm kernel shells have a high dry matter content (>80% dry matter). Therefore the shells are generally considered a good fuel for the boilers as it generates low ash amounts and the low K and Cl content will lead to less ash agglomeration. These properties are also ideal for production of biomass for export.
As a raw material for fuel briquettes, palm shells are reported to have the same calorific characteristics as coconut shells. The relatively smaller size makes it easier to carbonise for mass production, and its resulting palm shell charcoal can be pressed into a heat efficient biomass briquette.
Although the literature on using oil palm shells (and fibres) is not as extensive as EFB, common research directions of using shells, besides energy, are to use it as raw material for light-weight concrete, fillers, activated carbon, and other materials. However, none of the applications are currently done on a large-scale. Since shells are dry and suitable for thermal conversion, technologies that further improve the combustion characteristics and increase the energy density, such as torrefaction, could be relevant for oil palm shells.
Torrefaction is a pretreatment process which serves to improve the properties of biomass in relation to the thermochemical conversion technologies for more efficient energy generation. High lignin content for shells affects torrefaction characteristics positively (as the material is not easily degraded compared to EFB and fibres).
Furthermore, palm oil shells are studied as feedstock for fast pyrolysis. To what extent shells are a source of fermentable sugars is still not known, however the high lignin content in palm kernel shells indicates that shells are less suitable as raw material for fermentation.
The leading palm oil producers in the world should consider limiting the export of palm kernel shells (PKS) to ensure supplies of the biomass material for renewable energy projects, in order to decrease dependency on fossil fuels. For example, many developers in Indonesia have expressed an interest in building palm kernel shell-fired power plants.
However, they have their concerns over supplies, as many producers prefer to sell their shells overseas currently. Many existing plants are facing problems on account of inconsistent fuel quality and increasing competition from overseas PKS buyers. PKS market is well-established in provinces like Sumatra and export volumes to Europe and North Asia as a primary fuel for biomass power plants is steadily increasing.
The creation of a biomass supply chain in palm oil producing countries may be instrumental in discouraging palm mills to sell their PKS stocks to brokers for export to foreign countries. Establishment of a biomass exchange in leading countries, like Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria, will also be a deciding factor in tapping the unharnessed potential of palm kernel shells as biomass resource.
Palm Oil processing gives rise to highly polluting wastewater, known as Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME), which is often discarded in disposal ponds, resulting in the leaching of contaminants that pollute the groundwater and soil, and in the release of methane gas into the atmosphere. POME is an oily wastewater generated by palm oil processing mills and consists of various suspended components. This liquid waste combined with the wastes from steriliser condensate and cooling water is called palm oil mill effluent.
On average, for each ton of FFB (fresh fruit bunches) processed, a standard palm oil mill generate about 1 tonne of liquid waste with biochemical oxygen demand 27 kg, chemical oxygen demand 62 kg, suspended solids (SS) 35 kg and oil and grease 6 kg. POME has a very high BOD and COD, which is 100 times more than the municipal sewage.
POME is a non-toxic waste, as no chemical is added during the oil extraction process, but will pose environmental issues due to large oxygen depleting capability in aquatic system due to organic and nutrient contents. The high organic matter is due to the presence of different sugars such as arabinose, xylose, glucose, galactose and manose. The suspended solids in the POME are mainly oil-bearing cellulosic materials from the fruits. Since the POME is non-toxic as no chemical is added in the oil extraction process, it is a good source of nutrients for microorganisms.
Biogas Potential of POME
POME is always regarded as a highly polluting wastewater generated from palm oil mills. However, reutilization of POME to generate renewable energies in commercial scale has great potential. Anaerobic digestion is widely adopted in the industry as a primary treatment for POME. Biogas is produced in the process in the amount of 20 m3 per ton FFB. This effluent could be used for biogas production through anaerobic digestion. At many palm oil mills this process is already in place to meet water quality standards for industrial effluent. The gas, however, is flared off.
Palm oil mills, being one of the largest industries in Malaysia and Indonesia, effluents from these mills can be anaerobically converted into biogas which in turn can be used to generate power through CHP systems such as gas turbines or gas-fired engines. A cost effective way to recover biogas from POME is to replace the existing ponding/lagoon system with a closed digester system which can be achieved by installing floating plastic membranes on the open ponds.
As per conservative estimates, potential POME produced from all Palm Oil Mills in Indonesia and Malaysia is more than 50 million m3 each year which is equivalent to power generation capacity of more than 800 GW.
Recovery of organic-based product is a new approach in managing POME which is aimed at getting by-products such as volatile fatty acid, biogas and poly-hydroxyalkanoates to promote sustainability of the palm oil industry. It is envisaged that POME can be sustainably reused as a fermentation substrate in production of various metabolites through biotechnological advances. In addition, POME consists of high organic acids and is suitable to be used as a carbon source.
POME has emerged as an alternative option as a chemical remediation to grow microalgae for biomass production and simultaneously act as part of wastewater treatment process. POME contains hemicelluloses and lignocelluloses material (complex carbohydrate polymers) which result in high COD value (15,000–100,000 mg/L).
Utilizing POME as nutrients source to culture microalgae is not a new scenario, especially in Malaysia. Most palm oil millers favor the culture of microalgae as a tertiary treatment before POME is discharged due to practically low cost and high efficiency. Therefore, most of the nutrients such as nitrate and ortho-phosphate that are not removed during anaerobic digestion will be further treated in a microalgae pond. Consequently, the cultured microalgae will be used as a diet supplement for live feed culture.
In recent years, POME is also gaining prominence as a feedstock for biodiesel production, especially in the European Union. The use of POME as a feedstock in biodiesel plants requires that the plant has an esterification unit in the back-end to prepare the feedstock and to breakdown the FFA. In recent years, biomethane production from POME is also getting traction in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Europe is targeting an ambitious renewable energy program aimed at 20% renewable energy in the energy mix by 2020 with biomass energy being key renewable energy resource across the continent. However, the lack of locally-available biomass resources has hampered the progress of biomass energy industry in Europe as compared with solar and wind energy industries. The European biomass industry is largely dependent on wood pellets and crop residues.
Europe is the largest producer of wood pellets, which is currently estimated at 13.5 million tons per year while its consumption is 18.8 million tons per year. The biggest wood pellet producing countries in Europe are Germany and Sweden. Europe relies on America and Canada to meet its wood pellet requirements and there is an urgent need to explore alternative biomass resources. In recent years, palm kernel shells (popularly known as PKS) from Southeast Asia and Africa has emerged as an attractive biomass resources which can replace wood pellets in biomass power plants across Europe.
What are Palm Kernel Shells
Palm kernel shells are the shell fractions left after the nut has been removed after crushing in the Palm Oil Mill. Kernel shells are a fibrous material and can be easily handled in bulk directly from the product line to the end use. Large and small shell fractions are mixed with dust-like fractions and small fibres.
Moisture content in kernel shells is low compared to other biomass residues with different sources suggesting values between 11% and 13%. Palm kernel shells contain residues of Palm Oil, which accounts for its slightly higher heating value than average lignocellulosic biomass. Compared to other residues from the industry, it is a good quality biomass fuel with uniform size distribution, easy handling, easy crushing, and limited biological activity due to low moisture content.
Press fibre and shell generated by the palm oil mills are traditionally used as solid fuels for steam boilers. The steam generated is used to run turbines for electricity production. These two solid fuels alone are able to generate more than enough energy to meet the energy demands of a palm oil mill.
Advantages of Palm Kernel Shells
PKS has almost the same combustion characteristics as wood pellets, abundantly available are and are cheap. Indonesia and Malaysia are the two main producers of PKS. Indonesian oil palm plantations cover 12 million hectares in Indonesia and 5 million hectares in Malaysia, the number of PKS produced from both countries has exceeded 15 million tons per year. Infact, the quantity of PKS generated in both countries exceeds the production of wood pellets from the United States and Canada, or the two largest producers of wood pellets today.
Interestingly, United States and Canada cannot produce PKS, because they do not have oil palm plantations, but Indonesia and Malaysia can also produce wood pellets because they have large forests. The production of wood pellets in Indonesia and Malaysia is still small today, which is less than 1 million tons per year, but the production of PKS is much higher which can power biomass power plants across Europe and protect forests which are being cut down to produce wood pellets in North America and other parts of the world.
PKS as a Boiler Fuel
Although most power plants currently use pulverized coal boiler technology which reaches around 50% of the world’s electricity generation, the use of grate combustion boiler technology and fluidized bed boilers is also increasing. Pulverized coal boiler is mainly used for very large capacity plants (> 100 MW), while for ordinary medium capacity uses fluidized bed technology (between 20-100 MW) and for smaller capacity with combustor grate (<20 MW). The advantage of boiler combustion and fluidized bed technology is fuel flexibility including tolerance to particle size.
When the pulverized coal boiler requires a small particle size (1-2 cm) like sawdust so that it can be atomized on the pulverizer nozzle, the combustor grate and fluidized bed the particle size of gravel (max. 8 cm) can be accepted. Based on these conditions, palm kernel shells has a great opportunity to be used as a boiler fuel in large-scale power plants.
Use of PKS in pulverized coal boiler
There are several things that need to be considered for the use of PKS in pulverized coal boilers. The first thing that can be done is to reduce PKS particle size to a maximum of 2 cm so that it can be atomized in a pulverized system. The second thing to note is the percentage of PKS in coal, or the term cofiring. Unlike a grate and a fluidized bed combustion that can be flexible with various types of fuel, pulverized coal boilers use coal only. There are specific things that distinguish biomass and coal fuels, namely ash content and ash chemistry, both of which greatly influence the combustion characteristics in the pulverized system.
PKS has emerged as an attractive biomass commodity in Japan
Coal ash content is generally greater than biomass, and coal ash chemistry is very different from biomass ash chemistry. Biomass ash has lower inorganic content than coal, but the alkali content in biomass can change the properties of coal ash, especially aluminosilicate ash.
Biomass cofiring with coal in small portions for example 3-5% does not require modification of the pulverized coal power plant. For example, Shinci in Japan with a capacity of 2 x 1,000 MW of supercritical pulverized fuel with 3% cofiring requires 16,000 tons per year of biomass and no modification. Similarly, Korea Southeast Power (KOSEP) 5,000 MW with 5% cofiring requires 600,000 tons per year of biomass without modification.
PKS cofiring in coal-based power plants
Pulverized coal-based power plants are the predominant method of large-scale electricity production worldwide including Europe. If pulverised fuel power plants make a switch to co-firing of biomass fuels, it will make a huge impact on reducing coal usage, reducing carbon emissions and making a transition to renewable energy. Additionally, the cheapest and most effective way for big coal-based power plants to enter renewable energy sector is biomass cofiring. Palm kernel shells can be pyrolyzed to produce charcoal while coal will produce coke if it is pyrolyzed. Charcoal can be used for fuel, briquette production and activated charcoal.
The palm oil industry is particularly involved in the development of sustainability standards. Driven by growing global demand, palm oil production has expanded rapidly in the last few years. Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world, and its popularity has grown even more with the emergence of new market opportunities in the biofuels sector, in addition to its traditional food and oleochemical uses.
This strong growth has unquestionably contributed to the economic development of the main producer countries – Indonesia and Malaysia – which account for 87% of global production. Palm oil cultivation provides income for many smallholders, whose produce accounts for around 40% of world palm oil output.
Environmental and Socio-economic Concerns
However, the expansion of palm oil cultivation has also generated serious environmental concerns. It results in tropical deforestation and thus has a major impact on biodiversity loss, with the decline of emblematic species such as orangutan in Southeast Asia. It contributes to climate change through deforestation, but also through the conversion of peatlands, which are of vital importance in soil carbon sequestration.
The huge forest and bush fires in recent years in Indonesia which are associated with clearing lands for agricultural or forestry plantations caused severe air pollution and public health problems across the sub-region. In addition, industrial plantations are sometimes responsible for polluting waterways, into which chemical inputs and processing plant waste are dumped.
Moreover, this expansion has sometimes resulted in social abuses and human rights violations, in the form of land grabbing by plantation companies at the expense of local and indigenous communities or of the exploitation of plantation workers.
Sustainability Standards in Oil Palm Industry
Condemnation of these abuses by NGOs and growing consumer awareness of the adverse impacts of the expansion of palm oil plantation have driven the development of sustainability standards. Such standards are aimed at transforming production practices in order to mitigate their adverse environmental and social effects.
The expansion of palm oil cultivation in Southeast Asia has also generated serious environmental concerns.
In 2001, representatives of the food processing and distribution sector launched a dialogue with WWF and plantation companies, leading to the creation in 2004 of the first voluntary sustainability standard in the sector, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
There are now 2.41 million hectares of RSPO-certified plantations, while sustainable palm oil accounted for 20% of world trade in this product. Meanwhile, several other initiatives proposing a vision of palm oil sustainability have emerged, positioning themselves as either a complement or an alternative to RSPO.
New Challenges to Overcome
The development of these initiatives demonstrates the growing awareness among producers, the industry and the public authorities of the need to transform the sector to enable it to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But this proliferation of sustainability standards itself poses new challenges, even though the environmental and social problems that motivated their emergence remain unresolved.
At the institutional level, the proliferation of sustainability initiatives since the creation of RSPO reflects a real fragmentation of the regulatory framework. This proliferation also raises the question of the articulation of these voluntary standards with the public regulations and national sustainability standards that producer countries have adopted.
Finally, measures to ensure the sustainability of palm oil cultivation need to bolster their credibility by guaranteeing better inclusion of the millions of smallholders, and by contributing in an effective, measurable way to mitigating the adverse social and environmental impacts of growth in palm oil cultivation. In this field, the role of collaborative and multidisciplinary research in providing strong evidence-based impact evaluation of standards is crucial.
Biomass is being increasingly used in power plants in Japan as a source of fuel, particularly after the tragic accident at Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. Palm kernel shell (PKS) has emerged as a favorite choice of biomass-based power plants in the country. Most of these biomass power plants use PKS as their energy source, and only a few operate with wood pellets. Interestingly, most of the biomass power plants in Japan have been built after 2015.
Palm Kernel Shells
Palm Kernel Shell is generating very good traction as a renewable energy resource and biomass commodity in Japan. This is because PKS is the cheapest biomass fuel and is available in large quantities across Southeast Asia. PKS, a biomass waste generated by palm oil mills, can be found in plentiful quantities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
PKS must meet the specifications before being exported to Japan. Some key specifications for PKS exports are: moisture content, calorific value and impurities or contaminants (foreign materials). All three variables must meet a certain level to achieve export quality. Japanese markets or their consumers generally require contaminants from 0.5 to 2%, while European consumers of PKS need 2% – 3%.
Japan usually buys with a volume of 10,000 tonnes per shipment, so PKS suppliers must prepare a sufficient stockpile of the PKS. The location of PKS stockpile that is closest to the seaport is the ideal condition to facilitate transportation of shipment.
PKS has emerged as an attractive biomass commodity in Japan
Wood pellets are mostly produced in from wood waste such as sawdust, wood shaving, plywood waste, forestry residues, and related materials while using tools like track saws, table saws, circular saws, miter saws, etc. The development potential for quantity enlargement is also possible with energy plantations. Technically the properties of wood pellets are not much different from the PKS.
Wood pellet price is more expensive than PKS. Wood pellet production process is more complex than PKS, so wood pellet is categorized as finished product. The quality of wood pellet is generally viewed from its density, calorific value and ash content. Indonesia wood pellet export is not as big as PKS, it is also because of the limited producers of wood pellet itself.
Japan buys wood pellets from Indonesia mostly for testing on their biomass power plants. Shipping or export by container is still common in wood pellet sector because the volume is still small. Currently, the world’s leading producer of wood pellets come from North America and Scandinavia. Even for Indonesia itself wood pellet is a new thing, so its production capacity is also not big.
For a short-term solution, exporting PKS is a profitable business. Wood pellets with raw materials from energy plantations by planting the legume types such as calliandra are medium-term solutions to meet biomass fuel needs in Japan. Torrefaction followed by densification can be a long-term orientation. Torrified pellet is superior to wood pellet because it can save transportation and facilitate handling, are hydrophobic and has higher calorific value.
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