Joshua Forgotson is a Senior Climate Change and Sustainability Consultant at ICF, a global professional services firm that delivers consulting services and technology solutions in energy, climate change, and other areas. Josh specializes in national and project-level greenhouse gas emission methodologies and inventories, renewable energy, low emission development, energy efficiency, capacity building, and program management. He has supported numerous activities for USAID and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2017, he supported the Millennium Challenge Account–Indonesia’s Green Prosperity Project by estimating the greenhouse gas reductions of activities involving reforestation, agroforestry, rice cultivation, nitrogen management, and renewable energy.
Generating Electricity from Biogas from Palm Oil Mill Effluent
Every day, Indonesian palm oil mills emit nearly 2,000 metric tons of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from the waste treatment of palm oil mill effluent (POME), which cannot be discharged in its raw form. Though POME is waste byproduct of palm kernel milling, it can become an energy source when its biogas byproduct is harnessed for electricity production. Turning POME into useful power at 100 Indonesian palm oil mills could supply enough electricity to meet the needs of approximately 240,000 Indonesian households and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year.
A new paper in the Resources to Advance LEDS Implementation (RALI) Series presents lessons learned from efforts undertaken at three Indonesian palm oil mills. The recovery of biogas from POME to produce electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a demonstrably profitable practice that has been widely adopted across Southeast Asia. It also identifies the potential impact on electricity supply and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from replicating these efforts at additional mills in Indonesia.
Lessons Learned from Musim Mas’s Projects
The Millennium Challenge Account-Indonesia, with the support of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, was responsible for implementing the Green Prosperity Project. One aspect of this project was support for three pilot projects for biogas capture and electricity generation at Musim Mas palm oil mills in Indonesia.
To encourage the success of efforts to implement POME-to-biogas renewable energy projects at additional palm oil mills in Indonesia, the new RALI series paper makes several recommendations:
- Mills should employ a proven technology and a standard design for multiple projects.
- Project implementers should engage the electric utility as early as possible because the value of the feed-in tariff available to purchase the biogas-derived electricity will be critical to the project’s financial viability.
- Project implementers should consider establishing a community benefit-sharing plan to share potential revenues with local communities.
The Benefits of Scaling Up
The substantial greenhouse gas emission reductions and financial benefits of Musim Mas’s three projects demonstrate that generating electricity from biogas from POME is an effective means of supporting low emission development. Implementing POME-to-biogas renewable energy projects at 100 of Indonesia’s 742 mills could supply enough electricity to meet the needs of approximately 240,000 Indonesian households and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year. Additionally, implementing scalable POME-to-biogas technology should increase households’ access to renewable energy and reduce the environmental impact of the palm oil industry while increasing its economic competitiveness.
In the neighboring countries of Thailand and Malaysia, there is clear evidence of successful widespread adoption of POME capture and utilization for renewable energy generation. This has also started to occur in Indonesia, though further support from the government, in collaboration with palm oil companies, may be needed. Were Indonesia to take steps to accelerate this trend, it could help address energy access and reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions.