Renewable energy on Singapore's doorstep (The Straits Times)

THE National Climate Change Secretariat and the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said that Singapore has a relative lack of access to renewable energy (“Addressing climate change through energy, waste management”; yesterday).

However, renewable energy in the form of biomass waste surrounds Singapore, as we have the two largest palm oil producers in the world as neighbours – Indonesia and Malaysia.

Biomass waste is created when palm fruits are processed for their oil and the leftover fibres, known as empty bunches, are discarded. Other biomasses are created in the plantations when old palm trees are felled for replanting and when palm leaves are pruned, usually during harvesting of the palm fruits.

Malaysia’s palm industry has some 83 million tonnes of biomass waste available.

The palm oil mills that extract the oil are usually located near the plantations and far from electricity supplies. Therefore, these mills are equipped with electricity generators powered by steam from burning some of the waste.

The burning of biomass waste for energy does create carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes global warming, but it is absorbed by palm trees that need the carbon for growing new leaves and fruits.

Hence, the use of biomass waste to generate energy is renewable.

Singapore can generate its energy needs by using this available waste resource from our two neighbours. Besides energy, palm waste can also provide valuable chemicals that could prove useful for our scientists.

We should put more emphasis on utilising this large amount of waste resource from our two friendly neighbours.

Countries farther away from Malaysia and Indonesia are already funding large pilot plant projects and research. South Korea and Japan have very extensive investments, and are actively gearing their power producers to use this resource.

Lawrence Lee