KUCHING: Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) has engaged the help of a research scientist from an international university to investigate the phenomenon of greenhouse gas (GHG), particularly carbon dioxide (CO²), and methane (CH4) emissions from its hydropower reservoir.
Prof Yves Prairie, a global expert in the ‘Study of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aquatic Systems’ and a full-fledged professor at the Université du Québec á Montréal in Canada, has been conducting research on GHG emissions from tropical hydropower reservoir in Sarawak – specifically the Batang Ai hydroelectric plant’s reservoir – since 2014.
According to SEB general manager for research and development Dr Chen Shiun, the ‘GHG Emissions from Hydropower Reservoir Project’ was initiated in 2010 with the aim to quantify GHG emissions from hydropower reservoirs within Sarawak.
He said besides comparing the emission values from reservoirs with those from fossil fuel generation plants such as natural gas and coal, the research also aimed to improve understanding of the biogeochemical processes behind these emissions that would be useful for designing better hydropower projects.
“As the corporation pursues hydropower development to generate power for the state’s growth, this research initiative is essential and aligned to our careful considerations on the impact our operations have in terms of social, economic and environment. Furthermore, SEB adopts the ‘Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol’ in the development of its hydropower projects to ensure that these projects would be developed in a sustainable manner,” Chen said.
From the preliminary findings from Phase 1 of the research study, it is verified that hydropower reservoirs in Sarawak are of low GHG emissions against other fossil fuel power sources. However, there remain some uncertainties that need to be addressed in order to better understand the dynamics of the reservoir system in terms of CO² and CH4 production.
The research has now entered Phase 2, of which A PhD student from the university has also come on board to join Prairie. This second phase will be a follow-up study to further investigate and rationalise the underlying processes leading to GHG emissions as well as to verify emission patterns from tropical freshwater reservoirs.
Recently, Prairie gave a technical talk on ‘Greenhouse Gases From Aquatic Systems’ to a group of 30 comprising staff members of SEB, as well as students and lecturers from Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Universiti Teknologi Mara Kota Samarahan at Menara Sarawak Energy.
The talk’s highlights were on understanding the phenomenon on the production of GHGs from aquatic systems, best practices to sample GHGs and the basic physical and biological processes that could affect their magnitude and also variability.
Prairie holds a Unesco Chair in Global Environment Change and currently is the president of the International Society of Limnology. His research interests combine carbon and nutrient biogeochemistry, statistical modelling of ecosystem processes and physical limnology.
Limnology is the study of inland waters like lakes, reservoirs, rivers and wetlands as ecological systems interacting with their drainage basins and the atmosphere.
The global perception of tropical reservoirs is that they are high emitters of GHGs due to the warm climate, which drives the decomposition rate of organic matters flooded by the dam’s impoundment. This decomposition leads to the production of CO² and CH4 within the reservoir.
“Till today, there are still very few large-scale GHG studies conducted in tropical reservoirs; hence, this ongoing research on tropical reservoirs is crucial towards providing scientific data that will help us understand the true emission status of our tropical reservoirs,” a statement from SEB said.