Towards a Sustainable Palm Oil Product
By Asier Aramburu Santa Cruz, Climate Change RENEN Manager
Thanks to the project for the capture of methane, the displacement of fossil fuels and the cogeneration of renewable energy that ALLCOT is currently developing in Colombia, the palm industry can be a great ally in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The good management of its plantations and the avoidance of deforestation is not the only action that this industry can take, some changes in the processing of the fruit itself to obtain the oil can be also implemented to ensure a more sustainable product. Thus, Colombia has managed to turn a problem, waste management, into an opportunity. Industrial wastewater from the production process has a high organic load and requires a previous treatment to be discharged into an aquatic environment. In Colombia, this treatment was carried out using anaerobic lagoons, which emitted large amounts of methane into the atmosphere, a gas with a global warming potential 25 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2).
However, a solution was found: the use of biodigesters. Thanks to these facilities, methane emissions are being reduced by capturing biogas, the methane-rich gaseous mixture produced in the wastewater treatment process.
Although few plants are using this biogas to generate energy, the second phase of the project contemplates the adoption of this form of electric power generation. Thus, instead of burning in a flare, the current destination of most of the biogas, the companies will be able to adopt the technology that allows them to use that methane as an energy source. That is how they can become self-sufficient and deliver their surplus energy to the electricity grid, increasing the project’s climate change mitigation potential.
ALLCOT faces now a critical moment, as there is a need to update the Project Design Document (PDD) initially delivered to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But the biggest challenge comes with the first verification of the emission reductions to obtain the carbon credits, which will certify for the first time the reductions that have already been carried out. ALLCOT is also challenged to demonstrate the potential and benefits of the project, so that the rest of the companies take part in the project and this industry is transformed. Furthermore, the success of this project comes with the development of other initiatives within the production process, such as composting the sludge and waste from the production process, which also emits large amounts of greenhouse gases in their decomposition process.
ALLCOT commitment goes not only by doing the calculations of the reductions and the preparation of the documentation to get the carbon credits. ALLCOT is involving and motivating the companies visiting their production facilities.
The palm oil industry is currently the world leader in the supply of oils and fats. At the top the Asian countries play the main role, led by Indonesia and Malaysia, which have achieved fast growth in recent decades, reaching a combined production of 59,000,000 tons (82.5% of the total). However, this growth has received multiple criticisms, since it has led to the destruction of natural forests.
In the case of Colombia, in a field dominated by Asian producers, it has managed to position itself as the first palm oil producer in America and the fourth in the world (1,600,000 tons).
Therefore, following this project, the Colombian palm industry could show its commitment to sustainable development, take distance from other producers and align with the objectives set forth in the Paris Agreement.