An analysis by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that the wastewater produced during the processing of palm oil is a significant source of heat-trapping methane in the atmosphere. The researchers also suggest capturing the methane and using it as a renewable energy source.
Methane produced by a single palm oil wastewater lagoon during a year is roughly equivalent to the emissions from 22,000 passenger vehicles in the US, according to the study. Global methane emissions from palm oil wastewater are expected to equal 30 percent of all fossil fuel emissions from Indonesia.
The amount of methane biogas that went uncollected from palm oil wastewater lagoons last year alone could have met a quarter of Malaysia’s electricity needs. Tapping into that unused fuel supply could yield both financial and environmental benefits, the authors said.
Capturing methane at wastewater lagoons could be encouraged by making it a requirement before palm oil products can be certified as sustainable, the authors said. Current sustainability certifications do not address wastewater emissions, they add.