Mitigating Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Palm Oil Production: How Chlorine Dioxide Can Help?

Malaysia’s palm oil industry, a giant supplying a third of the world’s consumption (78 million metric tons in 2023) and contributing significantly to its GDP (2.4%), faces a critical challenge: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from production waste.

Mitigating these emissions is not just environmentally crucial but essential for the industry’s survival. The EU, a major export market, is phasing out palm oil biofuel due to environmental concerns. This shift toward sustainability demands action. Climate change adds urgency, with El Nino threatening declining yields. While the industry faces other challenges, prioritising GHG reduction is paramount. The industry needs sustainable and innovative solutions to help mitigate GHG emissions and business sustainability. 

Table of Contents

Waste and Byproducts: The Source of GHG Emissions

The key contributors to GHG emissions in palm oil production are:

  • Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME): This acidic, dark liquid, a byproduct of processing palm fruits, is traditionally treated in open ponds. Unfortunately, these ponds become breeding grounds for methanogenic bacteria, which release methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.
  • Solid Waste: Processing palm fruits also generates significant solid waste, including empty fruit bunches and palm kernel shells. When these decompose anaerobically (without oxygen), they release additional methane.
Existing Mitigation Strategies and Their Limitations

The Malaysian palm oil industry, while recognising the environmental impact of its operations, remains challenged in identifying truly comprehensive solutions due to limitations within its current mitigation strategies:

●      Landfill Diversion: While a seemingly positive step, diverting solid palm oil waste from open burning to landfills offers only marginal environmental benefit. Landfills, despite potentially capturing some methane, still facilitate its production. This approach, therefore, represents an incomplete solution.

●      Anaerobic Digestion: While a more environmentally sound approach than landfilling, this technology captures methane from palm oil waste and converts it into usable biogas. However, the high upfront investment required for infrastructure development and ongoing maintenance costs can limit its adoption by smaller palm oil producers.

Case Study: Mitigating Palm Oil Emissions with Chlorine Dioxide Treatment

Chlorine dioxide (ClO₂) is a versatile disinfectant widely used in various industries, including agriculture. It is a naturally occurring compound emerging as a potentially transformative solution inspired by nature’s processes. So, how does ClO₂ help reduce GHG emissions from palm oil production?


Company A, committed to operating sustainably, recognised the need to address the environmental footprint of its palm oil production.  While cost-effective, the traditional open pond system for palm oil mill effluent (POME) treatment fostered the growth of methanogenic bacteria, leading to substantial methane emissions. 

Solution and Results

We, BBC, leveraged our expertise in sustainable palm oil production practices and proposed exploring ClO₂ as an alternative POME treatment method.  ClO₂ possesses several properties that could significantly impact GHG reduction efforts:

●      Enhanced Effluent Quality:  ClO₂ acts as a powerful disinfectant, effectively eliminating harmful bacteria in POME.  This has improved overall effluent quality and disrupted the ideal environment for methanogenic bacteria, the primary culprit behind methane production.

●      Oxidative Potential: Beyond disinfection, ClO₂ boasts strong oxidising properties. These properties potentially break down the organic matter present in POME. By reducing readily available food sources for methanogenic bacteria, ClO₂ has significantly hindered their methane production.

●      Reduced Waste Management Costs: ClO₂ treatment generates less sludge than traditional open ponds. For Company A, the result has translated to cost savings in sludge transportation and sludge disposal.

●      Demonstrably Reduced GHG Emissions: Methane emissions from POME treatment were demonstrably reduced by 50%, leading to a substantial decrease in the overall GHG footprint. This reduction aligns with the company’s sustainability goals and contributes to a greener palm oil industry.

A showcase of the effectiveness of chlorine dioxide in water treatment

Malaysia’s palm oil industry, a giant facing a sustainability crisis due to waste-related GHG emissions, can secure its future by embracing innovation. Chlorine dioxide (ClO₂), a naturally occurring disinfectant, offers a promising multi-pronged solution: improved effluent quality, reduced methane production, and potentially lower waste management costs. Its cost-effectiveness will pave the way for a sustainable transformation in the palm oil industry and other agricultural sectors.

Chlorine dioxide is one of our sustainable and innovative solutions to help our clients prevent disease and pollution at a higher level at a lower cost. It is a powerful and safe disinfectant used in various sectors, especially in agriculture. 

Learn more about chlorine dioxide.


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