Millers as green power producers

Palm oil millers can help generate electricity for supply to the national grid and reduce power producers' dependence on natural gas, which can then be channelled to other sectors.

Malaysian Industrial Development Authority director-general Datuk Jalilah Baba said two days ago that, from 2012, the government would be looking to importing gas to meet impending shortage in the country. Heavy users of natural gas include oleochemical producers and steel millers, who use the commodity as feedstock and fuel.

According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), there are 417 palm oil mills in the country, out of which 246 are in Peninsular Malaysia. Mills emit methane from retention ponds after oil extraction. Methane is one of the many polluting gases in the environment contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming.

Palm oil millers can trap the methane to generate electricity and then sell it to Tenaga Nasional Bhd to be distributed in the national power grid. "We've appointed an international consultant to carry out a feasibility study on palm oil millers trapping greenhouse gas from palm oil mill effluent (POME) and converting it into energy," MPOB chairman Datuk Sabri Ahmad said. "The consultant is expected to finalise the study in two months," he told Business Times in a telephone interview.

In a separate interview, Bell Corp Sdn Bhd, which owns seven palm oil mills in the country, lent support to the government's policy of reducing the reliance on depleting fossil fuels and using more renewable energy instead.

"It is possible for mill owners like us to trap methane from POME and pump it into gas engines to generate electricity and hook up to the national grid," Bell chief executive Datin Liana Low said.

To date, one of Bell's mills has been fitted with a biogas plant to extract methane from POME to generate 2 megawatts per hour (MW/h) of electricity for sale to Tenaga Nasional Bhd. "By buying more green electricity from palm oil millers like us, the government can re-channel more natural gas for the export-driven manufacturing sector," she said.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said in his speech at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi recently that Malaysia was looking at improving feed-in tariffs as part of efforts to promote production of renewable energy. Feed-in tariffs guarantee that energy generated through renewable resources is purchased by the national grid operator.

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