Twelve tons of waste oil palm tree biomass is en route from Malaysia to a plant in Italy for tests on its suitability for conversion into industrial sugar. Successful results could one day result in commercial scale production of high-value green chemicals from the non-edible residue of Malaysia's vast oil palm plantations.
The tests form an initial stage of the Malaysian Biomass Initiative (MBI), a cooperative venture between the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), an agency in the Prime Minister's Department, through its subsidiary MYBiomass Sdn. Bhd., and palm plantation conglomerates Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd. (FGVH) and Sime Darby Bhd.
FGVH and Sime Darby will each own a 40 percent stake in MYBiomass Sdn Bhd while MIGHT holds the remaining 20 percent of the special-purpose vehicle. The undertaking was endorsed by Prime Minister Dato' Sri Najib Abdul bin Tun Razak at the second meeting of the Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC), held in New York City May 16.
"We are excited by the pace of development as we watch the first shipment of trunks, empty fruit bunches and fronds sent for testing in existing facilities in Europe," said Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman, President and Chief Executive Officer of MIGHT.
"This represents the initial phases of a much deeper cooperation that has brought two of the biggest oil palm plantation companies in the world together in an alliance that has the potential to transform an entire industry, one of the largest in Malaysia," he added.
The availability of inexpensive industrial grade sugars from a wide range of waste renewable biomass sources could re-write the economics of producing biofuels, plastics and several chemicals.
The shipment to Italy is intended for preliminary analyses, testing and technology adaptation in the Malaysian market. The Malaysian feedstock will be tested for its suitability to be converted into industrial sugar at commercial scale which can be fermented into building blocks of high-value green chemicals that could be produced in Malaysia.
If the feedstock is found to be adequately scalable at a commercial level the three-party venture plans to build a plant in Malaysia that could help deliver a significant value boost to the current commodity production of Crude Palm Oil (CPO).
"This deal goes well beyond the benefit of only a few stakeholders and has the power to radically transform the way we use our natural resources," said Yusoff.
"This has a 360 degree impact on everything from creating thousands of jobs in rural communities to downstream activities in logistics and transportation and, perhaps most importantly, new, high-value, knowledge-based growth in these science and technology related fields of the bio-economy," he added.
In 2008, oil palm trees covered 4,500,000 hectares (17,000 sq mi) of Malaysia, the world's second largest producer of palm oil after Indonesia.