Waste-to-wealth through biotechnology for profit, people and planet
Hassan, Mohd Ali (2008) Waste-to-wealth through biotechnology for profit, people and planet.
As part of business-as-usual, all industries and social communities create waste. Traditionally, wastes are considered as a problem and financial burden for the industry and community, since wastes have to be managed or treated for safe discharge or ultimate disposal. Currently, organic and agro-industrial wastes and biomass are increasingly regarded as additional income streams and potential raw materials for the generation of value-added products. In Malaysia, agro-industrial biomass has been widely used for heat and power generation for internal consumption, mainly in the palm oil and wood-based industries. This is attributed to the high demand of energy from these industries and the simplicity of the conversion technologies involved compared to that required for biological conversion. Moreover, this approach is another method of waste disposal for the industry. Power generation using boiler systems in all the palm oil mills in Malaysia is the best example, whereby electricity is generated through the simple combustion of palm kernel shell and mesocarp fiber. However, this thermal conversion of agro-industrial biomass represents low-end utilization of biomass. Moreover, oil palm empty fruit bunches which are produced in huge quantities are still very much underutilized. Our research group has embarked on comprehensive international and industrial research collaborations to enhance the technology and potential of agro-industrial biomass utilization in Malaysia, focusing mainly on palm oil -based residues, which are automatically collected as part of business-as-usual at the palm oil mills, for the production of new biotechnological products. Among the waste-to-wealth biotechnology products are biogas (methane) for renewable energy, organic acid feedstocks, biodegradable plastics, biocompost, biohydrogen and cellulosic bioethanol. The main obstacles in the development of industries based on biotechnology are complexity of the technology and economic feasibility. As industrial and environmental biotechnologists in a developing country, we strive to develop appropriate technologies to raise the value chain of biomass from fuel to feed,fiber, food and fine chemicals. We incorporate the use of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol in realizing the sustainable biomass industry in Malaysia, encompassing economic, social and environmental benefits (the 3Ps - profit, people and planet). Apart from being a good strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the CDM also provides a more attractive business plan to utilize biomass as renewable resources to generate new bioproducts and additional income streams for the palm oil industry.
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