Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Methane leaks from palm oil wastewater are a climate concern

Date:
February 27, 2014
Source:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Summary:
In recent years, palm oil production has come under fire from environmentalists concerned about the deforestation of land in the tropics to make way for new palm plantations. Now there is a new reason to be concerned about palm oil's environmental impact, according to researchers.

In recent years, palm oil production has come under fire from environmentalists concerned about the deforestation of land in the tropics to make way for new palm plantations. Now there is a new reason to be concerned about palm oil's environmental impact, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

An analysis published Feb. 26 in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that the wastewater produced during the processing of palm oil is a significant source of heat-trapping methane in the atmosphere. But the researchers also present a possible solution: capturing the methane and using it as a renewable energy source.

The methane bubbling up from a single palm oil wastewater lagoon during a year is roughly equivalent to the emissions from 22,000 passenger vehicles in the United States, the analysis found. This year, global methane emissions from palm oil wastewater are expected to equal 30 percent of all fossil fuel emissions from Indonesia, where widespread deforestation for palm oil production has endangered orangutans.

"This is a largely overlooked dimension of palm oil's environmental problems," said lead author Philip Taylor, a postdoctoral researcher at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). "The industry has become a poster child for agriculture's downsides, but capturing wastewater methane leaks for energy would be a step in the right direction."

The global demand for palm oil has spiked in recent years as processed food manufacturers have sought an alternative to trans fats.

For now, the carbon footprint of cutting down forests to make way for palm plantations dwarfs the greenhouse gases coming from the wastewater lagoons. But while deforestation is expected to slow as the focus shifts to more intensive agriculture on existing plantations, the emissions from wastewater lagoons will continue unabated as long as palm oil is produced, the researchers said.

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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Philip. G. Taylor, Teresa M. Bilinski, Hana R. F. Fancher, Cory C. Cleveland, Diana R. Nemergut, Samantha R. Weintraub, William R. Wieder, Alan R. Townsend. Palm oil wastewater methane emissions and bioenergy potential. Nature Climate Change, 2014; 4 (3): 151 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2154

Cite This Page:

University of Colorado at Boulder. "Methane leaks from palm oil wastewater are a climate concern." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140227134849.htm>.
University of Colorado at Boulder. (2014, February 27). Methane leaks from palm oil wastewater are a climate concern. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140227134849.htm
University of Colorado at Boulder. "Methane leaks from palm oil wastewater are a climate concern." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140227134849.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands of Fish Dead in Mexico Lake

Raw: Thousands of Fish Dead in Mexico Lake

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Over 53 tons of rotting fish have been removed from Lake Cajititlan in western Jalisco state. Authorities say that the thousands of fish did not die of natural causes. (Sep. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Iceland Volcano Spewing Smoke

Raw: Iceland Volcano Spewing Smoke

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — The alert warning for the area surrounding Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano was kept at orange on Tuesday, indicating increased unrest with greater potential for an eruption. Smoke is spewing from the volcano, and lava is spouting nearby. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

U.N. Says Ebola Travel Restrictions Will Cause Food Shortage

Newsy (Sep. 2, 2014) — The U.N. says the problem is two-fold — quarantine zones and travel restrictions are limiting the movement of both people and food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

Halliburton Reaches $1B Gulf Spill Settlement

AP (Sep. 2, 2014) — Halliburton's agreement to pay more than $1 billion to settle numerous claims involving the 2010 BP oil spill could be a way to diminish years of costly litigation. A federal judge still has to approve the settlement. (Sept. 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins