Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, which is formed when organic material decomposes under anaerobic conditions. Its impact on global warming is much greater than that of carbon dioxide. In the palm oil production process, methane formation takes place in the oil mill effluents. The amount of methane released into the atmosphere can, however, be reduced by capturing the methane formed in the palm oil production process or by preventing its formation through removal of organic matter from the mill effluent. Both methods offer both global and local environmental benefits.
Neste is involved in a project developing methods to prevent methane formation. The project takes place in Indonesia and Malaysia, and involves collaboration with palm oil company KLK, and a Dutch sustainability organization IDH. The project has progressed to a stage, within which we aim to verify exactly the amount of methane emissions that the developed method, i.e. the process, actually reduces. The target is to be able to define an official emissions reduction figure for the process. As the project aims at certifying the newly developed process and introducing it also to other industry players, the project involves an international certification system ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification).
Two ways to reduce methane emissions: preventing methane formation and recovering it
Approximately 15% of Malaysian palm oil mills are utilizing a method to recover methane in their processes. If mill effluent, i.e. wastewater, is discharged into an open pond, the pond can be covered, and methane captured and used, for example, to produce electricity. This biogas can also be captured without an open pond system by discharging the effluent directly to a bioreactor. The electricity generated can be used locally, and the surplus can be directed to the power grid.
In the methane prevention method, the organic matter is removed from the mill effluent by filtration, for example. The leftover matter is rich in nutrients and can be used in oil palm plantations as a fertilizer. Purified water can be directed to an irrigation water system.
Both methane recovery and prevention of methane formation are becoming more common in the palm oil industry. Neste plays an active role in promoting this development. We encourage palm oil producers to invest in the required new technology, and help mills in the adoption of the related new working practices.