Oil Palm and Second Generation Renewable Energy

In order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, a global movement to replace fossil fuel with biofuel is needed. The use of the first generation of biofuel, namely from agricultural and plantation production, is considered unsustainable because it requires a trade-off between fuel and food. Therefore, policies of the European Union Renewable Energy Directives (RED) and the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) recommend the use of the second generation of biofuel, such as biomass, as being more sustainable (Naik, et al, 2010). Indonesian oil palm plantation fulfill that role and contribute to the future global energy policy. Besides producing the first generation of biofuel (biodiesel, FAME), Indonesian oil palms also produce the second generation of biofuel (biomass) in a very large quantity, even bigger than the combined biomass volume produced by soybeans, rapeseed and sunflowers.

Oil palm plantations produce oil palm biomass in the form of empty fruit bunches, shells and fiber, oil palm trunks and oil palm fronds. Research results by Foo-Yuen Ng et al. (2011) show that each ha of oil palm plantation produces biomass in the form of about 16 tons of dry substance per year. The oil palm biomass production is three times bigger that the production of crude palm oil (CPO), which is the main product of oil palm.

With about 11 million ha of oil palm plantations in Indonesia in 2015, biomass production reached 167 million tons each year (Figure 1).

Oil palm biomass can be processed into bioethanol to replace premium fuel such as gasoline. According to the experience of the KL Energy Corporation in 2007, each ton of dry biomass substance can produce 150 liters of ethanol. This means oil palm biomass production of up to 167 million tons per year can produce 25 million kiloliters of ethanol every year, nearly 60 percent of the premium needs of Indonesia. With such a big volume of ethanol from oil palm biomass, don’t Indonesian oil palm plantations have the great potential to become ethanol or biopremium “mines”?

Figure 1: Sustainable oil palm plantation generation of first and second generation renewable energy (PASPI. 2016)

Besides using biomass from oil palm plantations, there is also the potential to utilize palm oil mill effluent (POME) through methane capture to produce biogas and biomethane (Figure 2). The production 113 tons of POME per year can produce 3,179 million cubic meters of biogas each year. This biogas can reduce the consumption of natural gas or be used to generate electricity (bioelectricity).



Figure 2: Installation of liquid palm oil waste processing plant with biogas technology to produce bioelectricity in East Kalimantan province

In other words, oil palm plantations produce sustainable renewable energy, namely biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas/bioelectricity. These three renewable sources of energy can replace fossil energy. Biodiesel would replace diesel oil, bioethanol would replace premium and biogas would replace natural gas. The uniqueness of the oil palm plantations is that they can jointly produce them with no trade-off. As long as the sun still shines, the production of palm oil and biomass will be sustainable so that biofuel production will also be sustainable. (PASPI, Palm Oil agribusiness Strategic Policy Institute)

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