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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.




Ai carumba!
Double sugar cane yields? I guess the downsides might be the time it takes for the trees to mature, and the specific water/climate needs.


It takes 5 years of growth before the sap is tapped. It is also considered a mongrove.


great ! lets just go and plant these loahsome palms everywhere, and create another huge monoculture, which will further knock biodiversitity on the head!


Even though the yeilds might be higher than sugarcane, I suspect tha the EROEI will be less since sugarcane EtOH is distilled by burning the cane waste, I believe... and these palms do not generate equivalent "waste" that can be burned for distillation.


Sugar cane has more avenues for improved efficiency; the bagasse could be converted to charcoal for sequestration or export, the gas used in high-temperature fuel cells (and the waste heat used for distillation), etc.  You have few options with sugar sap.


BBM, Engineer-Poet,
You can gasify it, since it is a carb. You can use power plants, or other processes that produces copious amounts of waste heat, to remove the water from the sap. Producing high grade sugar for human consumption is another possibility. Additionally, it is permanent crop, one that will live for decades. OTOH sugar cane is usually - though not always - replanted yearly.
_Granted, gasifying/burning bagasse, along with converting the sugar, produces a similar amount of fuel/BTU vs the pure sap play of this palm. Nevertheless, in certain cases, Nipah Palms would be preferable. Planting these along/off riverbanks could mitigate soil erosion. They can take up excess nutrients, which is often from humans/livestock/crops, from the riverwater/runoff. It is, afterall, a plant that grows well in marshy/submerged areas. Nypa fruticans are also native to areas from Bangaladesh, through Southeast Asia, into the Pacific, and to Australia.

Vin Diesel

Is Pioneer bio Industries a part of Pioneer Hi-bred Int'l, a subsidiary of DuPont Corp.? Or is this a distinct Malaysian company?


Vin Diesel,
Pioneer Bio Industries Corp is a Malaysian firm.


They had thriving sugar cane industries in Florida and Hawaii until ADM came up with high fructose corn syrup for soft drinks and ethanol. That was part of the tariffs on imported sugar. Sugar cane is much better to make ethanol and the stalks as mentioned have value too. Now they have corn that has enzymes in it to make it easier to make sweetener out of and soon super organisms to ferment it. We get side tracked by special interesests sometimes.


It might be a bit dated, but the yields for sweet potato are very high. According to the Resources: link above, it sould be getting somewhere in the 700-2,100 ga/acre (6,750-18,000 liter/ha) range. This figure is way beyond sugar cane (3,350-6,700 liter/ha), and beats out tapped nipah palms (6,480-15,600 liter/ha).

_Heh, maybe we can get Oprah Winfrey to support this. There is already an effort to build 3 ethanol plants, partly from sweet potatoes, in North Carolina. Total investment is over $1 billion.


Does anyone know how Nipah palm is tapped? And it is said that they got a patent for converting Nipah palm sap to ethanol. Can you patent such a thing?

Benjamin Thornton

Promising as it sounds, but look what I found this morning..

Looks like the plant had been cancelled but a little vague on the details. I'd hazard a guess it may have something to do with either sap tapping difficulties (consistency of yield) to make it viable? Or is there problem in the realm of private equity funding for such a mamoth project?

Was interested to see how this panned out. Would have been interesting!

henry urombo

i will like to get feed back on step by step method of tapping the nypa sap fermentation and ethanol production
with diagrams preferably


Nipah plot joint venture.

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