Malaysia has grand plans for its biofuels sector, with its massive palm oil industry currently producing 1,065 megawatts of electricity and 270 megawatts of biogas. The country is now reportedly aiming to become the hub of Asia’s research into green energy generation using biomass.
Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) launched its Centre for Biofuel and Biochemical Research (CBBR) on 24 February. The effort is supported by Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation, which is sponsoring the academic chair in green technology heading the center, according to the MoU signed by the two groups in 2009.
“CBBR also aims to be a key member of a global alliance of top biomass utilisation centres from the academia and industry in Asia,” says Yoshimitsu Uemura, the Mitsubishi chair in green technology, who spoke to the Singapore newspaper New Straits Times.
The center is one of three investing in biofuels research in the country, with the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Universiti Teknologi Mara and Universiti Sains Malaysia having ongoing projects, according to the newspaper.
CBBR will focus on biodiesel and biomass conversion to create bio-oil for transportation, solid fuel generation for small to medium-sized heating uses, and other research goals, according to Uemura.
The timing would be perfect, since current palm oil consumption is predicted to rise from 38 million tones today to 63 million tones in 2015, and 77 million tones in 2020, according to ISTA Mielke GmbH, a demand forecasting company based in Hamburg, Germany. Much of the supply would come from the world’s largest suppliers Indonesia and Malaysia.
The demand is expected to shift toward biodiesel from vegetable oils, as the European Union and United States are expected to put in place policies that promote biofuel use, according to Wetlands International.
Malaysia has plans to convert around 7,000 hectares of forest into oil palm plantations (see Nature’s previous coverage) and NGOs have warned against the deforestation. Between 2005 and 2010, nearly 353,000 hectares of peat swamp forests in Sarawak, Malaysia were cleared, mostly for palm oil production, according to Wetlands International.
The implications for biodiversity – and to climate change, due to the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide from felled peat swamp forests, and the subsequent release of a greenhouse gases from nitrogen-containing fertilizers use in plantations (PNAS, 107, 19655-19660; 2010) – are still being investigated by scientists.