UPM Leads Innovation To Deal With Climate Changes


BERNAMA, January 19, 2010

By Syed Azwan Syed Ali

KUALA LUMPUR: The challenges posed by climatic changes have pushed developing countries like Malaysia to switch its attention to the green technology in the effort to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into the air.

At the time when the government is committed towards reducing the CO2 emissions, local researchers are looking for the best method to support the move and among them is the production of 'biochar' (bio-charcoal) that is able to mitigate the climatic changes.

Biochar is produced by the 'bio-mass pyrolysis' of the oil palm's empty fruit bunch (EFB) which is able to store carbon underground for the mitigation measure.

In this context, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) with the collaboration of Nasmech Technology Sdn Bhd, is moving towards constructing a plant to produce the biochar from the oil palm's EFB in Dengkil, Selangor.

With RM3.98 million Technofund from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, a group of UPM scientists and researchers led by Prof Dr Azni Idris constructed a carbonator-driven plant to produce the biochar from residue materials including the EFB.


The project's researcher Dr Mohamad Amran Mohd Salleh said the carbonator is an innovative technology from Japan and utilises 100 per cent local components. It is also the first large-scale biochar production plant in the region.

"The carbonator is able to process up to 20 tonnes of EFB a day," he told Bernama at the universiti in Serdang near here recently.

The carbonator-driven plant at the Seri Ulu langat Oil Palm Mill in Dengkil, Selangor was fully completed August last year, 10 months after the start of its construction.

UPM's innovation with the collaboration of Nasmech is seen as the solution to the bio-mass waste disposal issue particularly the EFB which the country produces about 188 million tonnes a year.

Usually the EFB is disposed by either composting, incinerating or used as the direct fuel source for boilers.


Via the biochar innovation, the EFB will be turned into biochar through the pyrolysis process where it is heated at 300-450 degree Celsius in the absence of oxygen.

An interesting fact to note is that, apart from 20 per cent of the EFB which turns into biochar, the process also produces bio-fuel and synthetic gas (syngas) which is a form of renewable energy.

In the carbonator-driven plant context, the energy is reused as an energy source for the heating of EFB in the next cycle.

"Biochar is also an alternative to charcoal which is getting more expensive and difficult to source," he said.

UPM's expert on soil, Prof Madya Dr Rosenani Abu Bakar said biochar is able to act as a mitigating agent for climate changes.


Explaining further, Rosenani said the plants, via photosynthesis, would absorb the CO2 and sunlight to produce oxygen. The plants would later die and decompose in the soil, releasing the CO2.

In other words, the dead trees and other plants, similar to the biomass residues, would release CO2 into the air. It is the otherwise when these biomass residues were changed to biochar (stable carbons) and stored in the soil.

"This process led to the negative carbon scenario where the accumulative carbon would be reduced (in the atmosphere). It is a long-term process to reduce the carbon dioxide in the air," said the UPM Soil Management Department lecturer.

She said biochar is not exactly a new finding as it has been in used since thousands of years ago by the people in Terra Preta, Central Amazon, where charcoal is used to make the soil fertile.

Rosenani said the study had earlier showed that biochar is able to improve soil fertility by retaining water, absorbing fertiliser and hastening the action of microbes, believed to be related to the stable carbon composition.


"In this aspect, biochar acts as a conditioner to improve the soil fertility," she said.

UPM's Agriculture Faculty is studying whether the soil in this country is suitable for the use of biochar produced by the EFB to boost crops' productivity, making it the pioneer university in biochar research and development in this country.

"Biochar is UPM's contribution towards aiding the nation to combat global climatic changes," said the university's Vice Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Nik Mustapha R.Abdullah at the Malaysian Biochar Workshop held in the federal capital middle of last December.

In the United States, biochar is being considered as an agent to mitigate the climate change. The method is among the ways to reduce green house gas emission discussed at the United Nations Conference On Climatic Changes (COP15) held in Copenhagen, Denmark end of last December.

The biochar innovation, if commercialised would be able to reduce up to 3.4 million tones of the 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide produced by the nation's manufacturing sector each year. A significant contribution in terms of reducing Malaysia's green house gas emission.

Now it is up to UPM and its associates to make the commercialisation of this green tecnology a success as an alternative for the local industries to move the nation's low-carbon economy, for a more sustainable future.


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