Plantation Sector Round Tables: Can Malaysia Achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2050?
Roundtable 2: Optimising Resource Use
This post is based on the 2nd of 3 plantation sector-based roundtables involving sustainability experts to discuss the unique challenges and opportunities faced by the sector.
The second Plantation Sector Roundtable webinar organized by CEO Action Network (CAN) and Climate Governance Malaysia (CGM) on 4 August 2021 focused on the unique challenges and opportunities faced by the sector in “Optimising Resource Use” to recommend policies which would ensure all by-products are utilised to their fullest value-add, including at mills.
After a warm welcome by Dato’ Henry Barlow (Sime Darby Plantations), the Round Table discussion involved the following panellists:
·Ir. Qua Kiat Seng, Fellow, Monash-Industry Palm Oil Education and Research Platform
·Dr Harikrishna Kulaveerasingan, Chief Research & Development Officer, Sime Darby Plantation
·Mr. MR Chandran, Chairman of IRGA Sdn Bhd and Advisor to RSPO
and was expertly moderated by Dr. Gary Theseira from Malaysian Green Technology and Climate Change Centre (MGTC).
Ir. Quah began the session by highlighting the exciting potential palm oil mills have in being excellent examples of energy sufficiency through its use of biomass and biogas. “Mills potentially have the opportunity to go beyond net-zero and become carbon negative production units, if they are able to export the excess electricity and biomass it produces.”
Ir Quah also shared estimates of the energy potential from across the value chain – including solid biomass (such as fronds, empty fruit bunches, trunks etc.) palm oil mill effluents and refined product oils which could be as high as 64% of the total primary energy supply.
“This of course depends on how much can be unlocked from the conversion process. While a number of these conversion processes have been commercialised, there are still significant untapped opportunities to look at, e.g. the commercialization of pyrolysis and hydrolysis and fermentation", added Quah.
Dr. Hari spoke about the opportunities for carbon reduction and value creation in the palm sector, stressing that innovation is key in improving productivity and reducing carbon and water footprint.
He shared examples of Sime Darby’s efforts in innovating across the value chain – from the use of genomics to create more climate resilient planting materials, robotics, IOT devices, advanced imaging and mechanisation to enhance overall plantation management practices, including the harvesting process, enhancing oil extraction during milling by using enzymes and the adoption of AI in the refinery processes.
Dr. Hari added that “there are huge opportunities for immediate carbon reduction from methane produced at palm oil mill effluents – the renewable energy produced has the potential to reduce the plantation industry’s carbon footprint by >40%”.
Mr. M R Chandran focussed on the value proposition from the downstream segment as an economic driver for the palm oil industry. He highlighted Malaysia’s disproportionately high dependence on fossil fuels, with coal accounting for 43% of the energy mix in 2019.
In addition, despite MPOB being the inventor of palm methyl ester (biodiesel), Malaysia is lagging Indonesia currently. We need to move to B30 by 2024 or earlier. However, what is even more important as an economic and sustainability driver are hydro-treated vegetable oils (HVO), which are second-generation biofuels that can be used without blending (drop-in fuels)” said Chandran.
He also spoke about the poor buy-in of home-grown technologies and the need for government intervention to sponsor and support industry in commercialization of high-impact projects.
“The oil palm industry is one of the most taxed industries in Malaysia and at least a fraction of the tax revenues collected should be channelled for such purposes” added Chandran.
The contributors have also shared their thoughts in this earlier blog post.
Some written responses by the panellists to the questions raised by the audience here:
Panellists' presentation decks:
Dr Harikrishna Kulaveerasingan
Ir. Qua Kiat Seng