Convert slashed materials into biofuels

Slashed materials can be converted into biofuel or energy, and there will be a big demand for it in remote area if it is done properly, says Abu Bakar


A LONG-TERM solution to the transboundary haze problem which Malaysia has been facing could be solved by converting slashed materials from the slash-and-burn farming practised in Indonesia into bioenergy.

The Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) Haze Task Force chairman Prof Datuk Ir Dr Abu Bakar Jaafar, however, said investment is needed to kick-start the proposed solution.

Abu Bakar said Malaysia can help to tackle the problem by helping those who have been practising the slash-and-burn farming to not opt for burning as their preferred method of land clearing.

He said the slashed materials can be converted into biofuel or energy, adding that there will be a big demand for it in remote areas if it is done properly.

“The trick here is how do we encourage big plantation companies and other big players to invest in the conversion of biomass to bioenergy.

“Energy is not just electricity, it also includes biofuel. We want to provide solution to communities, but you must buy what they slash at an appropriate price which will help them not to burn,” he told a forum titled “The Haze Problem: A Blame Game or an Engdame” organised by ASM in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

He also said different technologies are needed for the conversion to take place and therefore studies should be conducted to identify the types of biomass that are present in the area.

“It’s very technical but most importantly the government, public and private investors must come together to set up entities so they can buy these slashed materials at an appropriate price and that will stop people from burning. I believe this would be the long term solution,” he added.

The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change deputy secretary general K Nagulendran (picture) said a pilot project in the country may be needed to show the private sector and communities the ways to utilise biomass alternative.

“Maybe there could also be a committee between Indonesia and Malaysia (to find solutions). “We need to do a pilot project first in Malaysia before we can understand how to go about it,” he told reporters yesterday.

On the transboundary haze, Nagulendran acknowledged suggestions for Malaysia to enact a law on the matter but the government would have to conduct a study first before taking further action.

“We do not want to create a law that cannot be used. For now at the ministerial level, we want ASM to conduct a study first and provide us with the pros and cons of the act, to know if it can be utilised.

“We are giving them three months because we want to look at the social and legal dimension and to ensure the law can be utilised,” he added.

Meanwhile, Department of Environment (DoE) DG Norlin Jaafar said there is also a need to look seriously into the local sources of haze before identifying the causes of transboundary haze.

She highlighted that DoE has received and investigated 4,691 complaints with regard to air quality from Jan 1, 2019, until Sept 30, 2019, which comprised various sources from forest, construction sites, open dump site and others.

Open burning in urban areas contributed a large chunk to the complaints, totalling to 3,905. “They would call us when their neighbours do open burning. They wouldn’t talk to their neighbours themselves because they want to maintain good relationship within the residential areas.

“This is very rampant in such areas and therefore we want to work closely with resident associations to remind them that open burning is not allowed especially during dry weather,” she said.

According to her, the DoE has taken several enforcement actions such as giving warnings, compounds and written notice to those involved.

She added the department also receives complaints on burning of peatland in Johan Setia, Selangor every year.

“We need to stop this problem because it has been happening every year.

“It’s either we need to change the land use or otherwise because it is also a highly populated area. I was told that the land was only for agricultural purposes but due to a high demand of housing, houses are encroaching near the agriculture land,” added Norlin.

A number of areas in Malaysia have recorded unhealthy Air Pollutant Index last month with Sarawak hitting hazardous level due to haze.

A total of 2,646 schools were also ordered to close which affected over 1.7 million students nationwide.