Malaysian Company To Build First Plant in Large Nipah Palm Ethanol Project; Envisions Eventual Output of 1.2 Billion Gallons per Year
|The nipah palm (Nypa fruiticans).|
Malaysia’s Pioneer Bio Industries Corp Sdn Bhd will invest RM 1.4 billion (US$ 399 million) to set up the first of some 15 envisioned plants to produce ethanol from nipah palm trees (Nypa fruiticans). Nipah palm ethanol is produced by the fermentation of the sap from the trees.
The first plant will begin operation in 2008 with output of 140 million gallons US. The majority of this and the project’s planned eventual 1.22 billion gallon output will be slated for export, according to the company.
The Perak state government has also agreed to reserve and convert a 1,000-hectare piece of land previously planted with coconut palms to be used for the planting of the nipah (also called mangrove) palms.
The government has also given Pioneer bio Industries the right to tap the sap from 14,000 ha of nipah trees found in the state’s coastal areas. In return for the right to tap nipah sap, the state government will share profits from the ethanol production.
Chairman Md Badrul Shah Mohd Noor said the company, which is a subsidiary of biotech company Pioneer Vaccination Biotech Corp Sdn Bhd, will invest a total of 14.4 billion ringgit ($4.1 billion) in the project over the next five years.
Partners and funding sources for the first plant will be made public in the future. The company is searching for investors for the larger project.
The nipah palm grows in the soft mud in littoral areas. The trunk of the tree is horizontal, and lies underground—the leaves of the nipah thus appear to grow straight out of the ground. Sap is collected by tapping a globular inflorescence before it blooms.
Nipah has a very high sugar-rich sap yield. According to one study (Hamilton and Murphy 1988), nipah sap can produce 6,480-15,600 liters of ethanol per hectare, compared to 3,350-6,700 liters/hectare from sugarcane.
(At least one study (Banzon 1984) has also argued the merits of harvesting coconut sap for production into ethanol rather than allowing the some of the biological energy to go into the production of non-edible parts such as the coconut husk. According to the study, the amount of energy harvested in the sap (through production of ethanol) could be 5 to 7 times higher than from the oil of the nuts.)
Nipah also is easy to tap, and the harvesting of the sap leaves no waste as in the bagasse from sugarcane.
Malaysia is also the world’s top producer (44%) of palm oil. Together with Indonesia (42% of global supply), both countries are targeting biodiesel as a new growth market for their palm oil. (Earlier post.)
Oil palms are in the same family as the nipah palms (Arecaceae), but are of the Elaeis genus.