Expert: Many Sabah biomass advantages
Published on: Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah has a huge potential to expand its biomass resources due to its strategic location to enter the Asian market as well as due to its deep sea portal for the shipment of biomass products, said Italian chemical engineer Pierluigi Picciotti."If you have 20 million tonnes of empty fruit bunch (EFB), that is the first element; you have the biomass that many countries don't. Secondly, the strategic location.

"From here, you have access to Asian markets as well as the deep sea portal through which you can easily ship the biomass products," Picciotti said after speaking at the The Green Agenda: Investment Opportunities in Bio-based Materials symposium at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru on Monday.

"In many cases, biomass is wasted; not collected or aggregated in an efficient way. If you don't solve the issues related to the biomass, you will never be competitive in the final product because the aggregation of the biomass is a real challenge," said Picciotti, who is the Business Development Director for Asia Pacific for Proesa technology under Beta Renewables S.P.A firm and was representing the technology provider.

Picciotti, who is based in Singapore currently, said Singapore did not have the resources, either in terms of oil or biomass.

"But, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines have a huge amount of biomass, which at the moment is not utilised efficiently," he said.

Picciotti also explained the difference between normal refineries and bio refineries, which is indicated through the resources utilised, adding that bio refinery which operates with agricultural residual would be a sustainable one.

"Refinery is basically taking the crude and producing a different product, and you switch one product from another according to the mixers, market trends and customer needs. The concept of bio refineries is exactly the same, with one very important difference.

"We are not talking about fossil resources, that is limited and sooner or later will end, but we are talking about renewable resources, and the particular resources come from residual of agriculture activity, forestry or dedicated crops.

"And, by this combination, it is possible to produce sugars, and these sugars are intermediates for other productions," Picciotti elaborated.

He said the firm was focusing on the cellulose and the hemicellulose conversion, which was done through enzymatic hydrolysis to produce second generation ethanol.

"Basically, we take the biomass, separate the cellulose from the hemicellulose and vice versa. The moment we have the sugars, we ferment the sugar, at an industry scale, into ethanol. The residual which is lignin is currently used to generate electricity," he said, adding that, the new biomass barrel includes the cellulose and hemicellulose for biofuels and bio chemicals, lignin and ash (silica).

The firm supplies the technology, engineering and know-hows for investors on deriving fermentable sugars from cellulosic biomass at a commercial scale. It supported the world's first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy.

The 15ha plant generates 40,000 tonnes of bioethanol per year as well as 13MW of green electricity from lignin with 200 MT of biomass used. The feedstock supplied to the plant included rice straw, wheat straw and Arundo Donax, common giant reed and the plant recycles the water, not producing wastewater from industrial production.

"It depends very much from country to country and local situations. Sometimes, the biomass is in a place where there is no connection to the grid, then it makes no sense to generate electricity. In that case, probably, it would be more efficient to think about the production of pellets and then ship it in the market."

He said biofuel was pertinent as the population was growing, so was the transport sector, and 25pc of global carbon dioxide emission was from the transport sector. The biofuel such as cellulosic ethanol will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by approximately 115pc.

"More people is traditionally associated to more cars. It can be debated but as the national average income grows, there will be more cars. More cars means more pollution," Picciotti said, adding that biofuel was the master of the future.


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