KUCHING: As the palm oil industry in Sarawak continues to be an important contributor to the state’s economic growth, the industry can also be an added source of energy for the state, says Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa).
The palm industry, which has been robust growth and development over the past years, has been envisaged to cover two million hectares by 2020. Based on the government’s plan, it now covers about 1.2 million hectares throughout the state.
A spokeperson from Soppoa highlighted in a statement, these robust growth in palm oil could potentially be used to tap into the main power grid as biomass and biogas
“Based on conservative estimates, it can be said that millions of ringgit are being lost to the state and industry through the wastage of biomass and biogas potential resulting from palm oil mill effluent (POME).
“The EFB (empty fruit brunches) comprises the most bulky component of biomass material as it could be burn to produce energy, as currently being practiced in Peninsular Malaysia.
“In the case of Sarawak, these energy produced could potentially be used to tap into the main power grid as well as for rural electrification schemes from palm oil mills that are located near main grid and those in remote areas in the state,” said the spokesperson.
According to the statement, it is timely that the Sarawak optimises this potential by putting forward plans to utilise these wasted power resources as practiced in Peninsular Malaysia where power generated from mills are tapped into the main power grid as additional source of power supply.
Furthermore, Malaysia Palm Oil Board (MPOB), the governing authority for the industry, has mandated that palm oil mills should fully utilise these resources by 2020.
The cost to set up these biogas plant for each mill is about RM8 million to RM10 million and with over 60 mills in Sarawak, that could come to over RM600 million in investments, the association said.
“Currently, Sarawak does not have the necessary infrastructure in place for tapping into the power grid and rural areas also lack proper infrastructure to enable the supply of power to these areas.
“As such, the palm oil mills in Sarawak will be just investing in the biogas infrastructures with no returns to their investments due to the lack of infrastructure and facilities to supply power to the main grid or for rural electrification schemes.
“Therefore it is timely that the state and federal governments look into providing the necessary infrastructures for the utilisation of potential power supply from palm oil mills in the state,” added the spokesperson.
Under Malaysia’s National Key Economic Areas (NKEA), for the palm oil industry, Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) programme was introduced to provide attractive energy incentives for biogas producers to sell electricity to the main electricity grid and this is one area that Sarawak can also tap into for funds.
It added, in view of the coming 11th Malaysia Plan which is currently being drawn up, Soppoa hopes that funds can be allocated for the setting up of infrastructures to provide electricity by utilising these biomass and biogas resources which will continue to grow for the years to come as the palm oil industry continues to grow.
Recently, Soppoa Council members have met and discussed the growth and development of the industry with various relevant ministries and agencies to synergise the industry’s potential with the development plans for the state, including supply of electricity to the main grid and to rural communities.
Presently, the Ministry of Land Development is the main agency in Sarawak responsible for the palm oil industry while the industry is guided by MPOB principles and laws.
Soppoa believes that with the support from the federal and state governments, the biomass and biogas from the palm oil industry here could be put to good use for the development of the state, especially the rural areas.