Palm oil biomass’ days of being used as a fertilizer and as a source for low-grade lumber are numbered. In fact, if things work out, it could be a billion-ringgit industry in a few years’ time.
In their aptly titled article ‘More To Oil Palm Than Just Palm Oil’, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia’s (FRIM) Dr. Marzalina and Dr Wan Tarmeze write: “90% of oil palm plantation revenue is derived from the sale of crude palm oil (CPO) and crude palm kernel oil (CPKO) while the other 10% is derived from other parts of the palm. These figures are expected to be reversed by 2020.”
The new avenues for palm oil biomass include being processed as feedstock for energy generation, being converted into biofuels and biochemcicals, biogas and, finally, as a source for medium-density fibreboard (MDF).
The National Biomass Strategy 2020 states, “Malaysia could benefit from an additional RM30 billion contribution to GNI by utilising the biomass from the oil palm industry for higher value-added downstream activities. This would result in more and better jobs for Malaysians, as the country would begin producing high-value products out of a resource that is currently little used in advanced industries in Malaysia.”
The report is blunt when it states in no uncertain terms, “The different uses (of oil palm biomass) have very different risk-return profiles, given different technological maturities, global demand potential and competitive dynamics. Not surprisingly, the highest-value opportunities – biofuels and biobased chemicals – carry also the highest technology uncertainty and competitive risk. A portfolio approach is critical for the nation to ensure there is a combination of short to medium-term investments into immediate opportunities and longer-term investment in higher value-added opportunities.”
With RM30 billion in GNI and 66,000 new jobs by 2020 all to play, it’s clear that the road from oil palm waste to wealth will not be for the faint of heart.
Photo credit: http://hishambioproc.blogspot.com/