Malaysia: The Biodiesel Question
Malaysia is a country that has faced the negative impacts of climate change. Droughts, floods, and the loss of crops have all plagued the country, and climate change has been linked to these events. Also expensive, attempting to adapt to ever harsher floods has cost the government of Malaysia over $2.6bn this past decade. It is no surprise then that Malaysia has long been a supporter of environmental causes. In 2013, the Malaysian government promised to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 through a move to more environmentally-friendly fuels. Palm oil is the main source of this.
Malaysia is responsible for producing 10% of the world’s palm oil, which is used in 50% of products worldwide. In order to reduce carbon emissions, Malaysia has set a target known as B10. The goal is to increase the environmental credentials of road fuels. Fuel in Malaysia is often a blend between conventional and biodiesel. The B10 strategy aims to make all blended diesel have a 10% biodiesel content. Malaysia’s rise in biodiesel will have some environmental benefits.
Biodiesel itself is, at least in theory, carbon neutral. Because the fuel is created from palm oil, the carbon present in the palms is simply released back into the atmosphere. Therefore, burning biodiesel does not add more carbon to the air. In addition, the resulting fuel actually has lower emissions than petroleum-based diesel.
Biodiesel created from palm oil releases 52% lower gas emissions than conventional diesel.
The government of Malaysia stated that in the previous B7 programme, 700,000 tons of crude palm oil was used. With its lower carbon content, an increase in its usage looks to be a major positive for environmental goals, and a fundamental part of Malaysia’s push for a greener world.
Malaysia: Palm-Biodiesel Issues
However, it may not be as simple as this. A rise in the use of palm-based biodiesel has the potential to create environmental harm. The production of biodiesel is certainly not carbon neutral. Fossil fuels, heavy in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, are used to produce it. Artificial fertilisers are used to grow the palm plants, and the production of these fertilisers requires the burning of fossil fuels. There are also concerns over these fertilisers. For each tonne of palm oil that is produced, 2.5 tonnes of waste water effluent is released. If it seeps into the water stream there could be a negative impact on marine life.
Malaysia’s deforestation also has a significant effect on the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In order for palms to be planted, forest must be removed. Malaysia has the highest level of deforestation in the world. It is estimated that nearly 8.6% of forest cover was lost in just twenty years.
The establishment of palm plantations threaten endangered plants, and the habitats of endangered animals such as the Orang-utan.
Malaysia has already witnessed 4 million hectares of land transformed by palm oil plantations. With Malaysia’s target to increase palm oil production to 1,000,000 tonnes this year, it is set to increase. The potential negative effects of biodiesel from palm oil raises a dilemma. Malaysia’s biodiesel method may save the environment one way, only by harming it in another. One in six of the world’s species may be at risk of extinction through global warming. In the production of ‘green’ biodiesel in Malaysia, some already are.