However, the climate impact of the leaking methane could be mitigated by capturing the gas and using it to fuel power plants. Biogas technology has been used successfully for decades and it can produce renewable electricity at a cost that's competitive with traditional fuels, the authors said.
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.
Taylor, whose research typically focuses on carbon cycling in old-growth tropical forests, was inspired to do the analysis by undergraduate researcher Hana Fancher, who also is a co-author of the journal article. Fancher and Taylor were doing research in Costa Rica, where palm oil production is spreading, when Fancher became curious about how the oil was being processed.
"She has a wastewater background," Taylor said. "She ended up doing an honors thesis on palm oil agriculture and wastewater emissions. This paper is an extension of that thinking."
|Contact: Philip Taylor|
University of Colorado at Boulder