MIGHT-y good prospects for biomass

The Malaysian Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT), an agency in the Prime Minister’s Department, believes that high value products derived from biomass could displace a major portion of petroleum used for plastics.

Picking up a plastic bottled water, MIGHT president and chief executive officer Mohd Yusoff Sulaiman said: “It’s possible to make this water bottle from renewable feedstock like biomass.”

Speaking to Business times Yusoff said, “Basically, you take the same starting material and ask; which way should I go, how do I break this down to maximise my return and minimise my risks? We are asking ourselves, is there a better way to use abundant bio-resources available in Malaysia?”

“Can we reorganise to maximise the value of oil palm by making things like biocomposite, biopellets or green chemicals?”

Also present at the interview was MyBiomass Sdn Bhd managing director Puvaneswari Ramasamy.

She said biorefineries in many ways, resemble their oil refinery cousins. A homogenous product goes in one end and many different products come out of the other. Essentially, biomass is not very valuable since its chemmicals are all mixed up. So, the challenge in biorefining is to find ways to capture the high-value fractions of biomass at low cost.

Puvaneswari’s company, MyBiomass is looking for the best ways to organise Malaysia’s biomass industry around high value products. She is in talks with some of the country’s largest plantation companies to provide a mechanism to aggregate biomass feedstock for the industry and is even talking to technology providers about ways to revitalise Malaysia’s strength in green industries through biorefining.

“To date, the biorefinery industry is still in a nascent state. Yusoff explained that integrated biorefineries use a variety of feedstocks and conversion technologies to produce biofuels with by-products, like building blocks for chemicals.

Most importantly, Yusoff said biorefineries will have to employ the best possible technologies for fermentation, gasification, and chemical conversion, and also for pre-treatment and storage.

This will require close co-operation among biomass suppliers, chemical companies and process engineers to cover the whole value chain, from feedstock supply to end-user distribution.

According to him, biorefineries has huge implications and touches every part of the value chain.

“It really brings a 360-degree approach. At the end of the day, it’s not just about jobs and dollars and cents, but about creating high-value, sustainable industries in economic areas of the green future where Malaysia can play a leading role globally based on existing strengths.”

Indeed, another key challenge is to establish the supply chain and distribution infrastructure and raise the big amount of money for investment. Yusoff acknowledged that the biomass-fed biorefinery business requires higher capital than a conventional oil refinery. Yet, he said, this concept is workable in the long run.

“We are on the cusp of creating a global industry, right here in Malaysia.” he said.

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