Malaysia going the bio-oil way


KUALA LUMPUR: MALAYSIA’S ambition to produce and use more second-generation biofuel is fast picking up as process engineers embark on converting biomass to liquid fuel via fast pyrolysis.

“Second-generation biofuel, like bio-oil, is more environmentally friendly than biodiesel or bio-ethanol. This is because bio-oil is derived from biomass and this circumvents the food versus fuel dilemma,” said Lipochem Sdn Bhd managing director Koh Pak Meng.


Second-generation biofuels are a realistic alternative to the costlier fossil fuels. This is because bio-oil can be used to heat up water to produce steam to push turbines that generate electricity. This is a valuable means of replacing depleting fossil fuels like petroleum, coal and natural gas.

One can turn a wide range of agricultural waste like oil palm biomass into stable, concentrated bio-crude. This is then refined into bio-oil to replace fuel oil burnt in boilers.

Unlike the current burning of empty fruit bunches in oil mill boilers, Koh said bio-oil plants adopt the fast pyrolysis process, where biomass is heated rapidly to temperatures between 300 and 550°C at high pressure without any oxygen.

The gases released by the burnt biomass enter a quench tower, where they are quickly cooled and recycled back to the reactor as fuel.

“Bio-oil plants are the way forward as they are far more energy efficient and make the industry more carbon neutral,” he told Business Times at the sidelines of the Palm and Lauric Oils Conference and Exhibition POC2013, here, yesterday.


Currently, Lipochem’s demo plant in Klang is able to process five tonnes of dry biomass a day. 

Koh said this plant, when scaled up 20 times to a commercial size of 100 tonnes a day, will cost around RM30 million. 

“The return on investment for a typical 100-tonne-a-day bio-oil plant is around three years. It is a worthwhile investment.”

Koh said bio-oil has many of the advantages over petroleum fuels since it can be easily stored, pumped and transported. It can be combusted directly in boilers, gas turbines, used in slow and medium speed diesels for steam and power plants.

“Fuel oil is priced at around US$750 per tonne while bio-oil can be sold for US$375 per tonne. The price difference itself poses big potential for domestic use of bio-oil as well as for the export market.”