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M’sian standard for palm oil
author : StarBiz Date :20 October 2009
Country to standardise the way palm oil’s impact on the environment is calculated

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia wants to standardise the way palm oil’s impact on the environment is calculated, senior officials said yesterday, as it seeks to counter criticism that the industry fuels climate change.

Next year, the European Union (EU), a top biofuels consumer, will impose a target to only accept biodiesel that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 35% versus fossil fuel, which risks cutting out palm oil which the EU considers to save only 19%.

“We are willing to let the EU scrutinise our system,” Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) chairman Datuk Sabri Ahmad told Reuters on the sidelines of a regional conference.

“We should be the ones coming up with the standard, since we know palm oil best and we have nothing to lose.”

Officials said there was no clear timetable when Malaysia would present its own system to compute palm oil’s greenhouse gas savings, although a major government-sponsored study due to be presented next month would form the basis.

Environmentalists said the rapidly growing palm oil sector was not only responsible for the loss of vast areas of tropical forests that soaked up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, but emitted warming gases during processing.

Sabri said a major saving could come through capturing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas produced during the processing of oil palm fruit bunches. Flammable methane can be burned to produce electricity on-site.

A tonne of crude palm oil could produce between 400kg and 900kg of methane, analysts said.

Based on current studies, palm oil’s greenhouse gas savings ranged from 19% to 72% over fossil fuels, making it difficult to decide on a standard value for the tropical oil, said MPOB chief executive Tan Sri Yusof Basiron.

That becomes a problem for governments wanting to draft biofuel legislation. Malaysia’s palm oil industry has long wanted to export its biofuels to the EU, which has made big investments in the biofuel sector. But palm biodiesel’s use has been limited.

“The low and erroneous values would be used to the advantage of detractors, who accuse the industry of not being sustainable, as is happening at the moment,” Yusof told the conference.

So far, studies conducted by the MPOB showed that palm oil with methane capture at mills could achieve 62% greenhouse gas savings, Yusof said.

“Further greenhouse gas savings can be expected from the Malaysian palm oil industry as the lifecycle assessment of palm oil production determined that methane emission contributes to 51% of its emissions,” Yusof said.

Lifecycle calculations also include the amount of carbon saved by displacing the use of ordinary fossil fuels.

Efforts were under way to equip Malaysia’s palm oil mills with methane capturing technology, Yusof said.

Only 4% of the country’s mills had been equipped, officials said. — Reuters

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