Currently, almost two-thirds of Europe’s renewable energy comes from burning biomass, and the industry employs almost half a million workers.
BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand will soon be turning its coconut waste into electrical power thanks to a specialized power plant that burns biomass.
Unlike other biomass plants, which can be designed to burn everything from wood chips to city waste, the plant being built in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon Province will be tailored specifically for coconut parts, reported David Appleyard, a contributing editor to Renewable Energy World, in 2013.
Thailand produces over 1 million tonnes of coconuts annually, according to United Nations statistics, and by tailoring the plant to use just one form of widely available form of waste, officials of DP Cleantech, the corporation constructing the plant, believe they can increase efficiency while reducing air pollution. The plant, which is expected to open in the next 18 months, will generate 9.5 MilliWatts of energy.
Simon Parker, CEO of DP Cleantech, told Appleyard that the plant would be unusual because it would accept multiple forms of coconut fuel, including husks, shells, and leaves, adding:
“We believe that the energy market in Thailand is ready to be at the forefront of the new generation of solutions for biomass to power, using higher efficiency, multi fuel and low emissions solutions.”
Biomass is becoming an increasingly popular renewable energy source, although most current plants are fueled by wood chips. In their 2015 report, the European Biomass Association estimates that Europe received 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 2013, the most recent year for which figures were available. Of that total, 61.2 percent came from biomass generators, almost two-thirds of the renewable energy generated on the continent. That same year, 494,550 people were estimated to work in the biofuel industry, generating wages of 56 billion euros.
Although cleaner and more renewable than fossil fuels, biomass plants have met with some resistance because they do generate greenhouse gases. Fuel sources can also be a source of conflict. On Dec. 14, Clara Attene, writing for Youris.com, a nonprofit European media research center, reported that residents of Sicily protested plans to build a biomass plant that would require cutting 6,000 hectares of Eucalyptus trees on the island for fuel.
Elsewhere on the island off the tip of the “boot” of Italy, Attene noted, researchers from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Catania are researching the potential of using agricultural waste, specifically citrus skins, to generate power:
“They aim to create a local source of renewable energy from the 400,000 to 700,000 tons of orange residue from fruit juice production, the disposal of which costs between €12 and 21 million every year.”
A 2014 study from the International Council on Clean Transportation estimated that Europe currently wastes 220 million tons of similar material which could be fed into a biomass plant. Ben Allen, a senior policy analyst at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, told Attene that biofuel-based approaches will have to be tailored to each individual region:
“Context is everything when evaluating sustainability … because it determines the feasibility of a power plant, the availability of the resources, the conditions of supplying and the interaction with the wider business community.”