PKS From Africa Can Fuel Biomass Power Plants in Japan

Japan’s biomass fuel requirement is estimated to be tens of millions of tons each year on account of its projected biomass energy capacity of 6,000MW by the year 2030. To achieve this capacity, more than 20 million tons of biomass fuel will be needed every year which will be mainly met by wood pellets and palm kernel shell (PKS). The similarity of the properties of wood pellets with PKS makes PKS the main competitor of wood pellets in the international biomass fuel market.

PKS-biomass

PKS has emerged as an attractive biomass commodity in Japan

Canada and USA are the biggest suppliers of wood pellets to the Japanese biomass market while PKS mainly comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. With the size of the material almost the same as wood pellets, but at a cheaper price (almost half the wood pellets) and also available in abundance, PKS is the preferred biomass fuel for the Japanese market. PKS can be used 100% in power plants that use fluidized bed combustion technology, while wood pellets are used in pulverized combustion.

Although there is abundant PKS in CPO (crude palm oil) producing countries, but fluctuations in CPO production and increase in domestic demand has led to reduction in PKS exports in Southeast Asia. In palm oil plantations, it is known as the low crop season and peak crop season. When the low crop season usually occurs in the summer or dry season, the supply of fruit to the palm oil mills decreases so that the CPO production decreases and also the supply of PKS automatically reduces, and vice versa in the peak crop season. When demand is high or even stable but supply decreases, the price of PKS tends to rise.

In addition, a wide range of industries in Indonesia and Malaysia have also began to use PKS as an alternative fuel triggering increased domestic demand. In recent years, PKS is also being processed into solid biomass commodities such as torrified PKS, PKS charcoal and PKS activated carbon. Thus, there is very limited scope of increasing PKS supply from Southeast Asia to large-scale biomass consumers like Japan and South Korea.

Palm oil mills process palm oil fruit from palm oil plantations, so the more fruit is processed the greater the PKS produced and also more processors or mills are needed. At present it is estimated that there are more than 1500 palm oil mills in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm kernel shells from Indonesia and Malaysia is either being exported or used domestically by various industries. On the other hand, in other parts of the world PKS is still considered a waste which tends to pollute the environment and has no economic value.

Palm Oil Producers

Top palm oil producers around the world

West African countries, such Nigeria, Ghana and Togo, are still struggling to find a sustainable business model for utilization of PKS. Keeping in view the tremendous PKS requirements in the Asia-Pacific region, major PKS producers in Africa have an attractive business opportunity to export this much-sought after biomass commodity to the Japan, South Korea and even Europe.

Simply speaking, PKS collected from palm oil mills is dried, cleaned and shipped to the destination country. PKS users have special specifications related to the quality of the biomass fuel used, so PKS needs to be processed before exporting.

PKS-export

PKS exports from Indonesia and Malaysia to Japan are usually  with volume 10 thousand tons / shipment by bulk ship. The greater the volume of the ship or the more cargo the PKS are exported, the transportation costs will generally be cheaper. African countries are located quite far from the Asia-Pacific region may use larger vessels such as the Panamax vessel to export their PKS.

Biomass Market in Japan: Perspectives

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.

Biomass-Power-Plant-Japan

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

PKS has emerged as an attractive biomass commodity in Japan

Wood Pellets

Wood pellets are mostly produced in from wood waste such as sawdust, wood shaving, plywood waste, forestry residues and related materials. 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.

Future Perspectives

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.