Malakoff champions biomass co-firing in Malaysia, pursues growth in renewable energy

As the world moves to reduce carbon emissions, the three core dimensions of energy sustainability in the forms of energy security, social equity and environmental impact mitigation are creating a trilemma for countries and policymakers.

For Malakoff Corporation Bhd, Malaysia’s largest independent power producer, the trilemma underscores the group’s energy transition approach, compelling it to reposition with a strategic focus on renewable sources while ensuring that the nation’s energy security is not compromised.

Managing Director and Group CEO Anwar Syahrin Abdul Ajib says the viability of thermal power plants is still relevant in the energy industry. This is because thermal plants can produce electricity with higher efficiency and provide power supply security for the country.

Winner of the Independent Power Producer of the Year award for biomass co-firing at Enlit Asia 2023, Malakoff’s existing thermal power plants supply 24.1% of Peninsular Malaysia’s total electricity generation. Through this, the group continues to support the nation’s power demand by addressing the country’s energy trilemma while balancing its own growth journey towards sustainability, in line with the government’s long-term aspirations.

Decarbonisation through co-firing
One of Malakoff’s key initiatives to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions involves the decarbonisation of its largest thermal plant with a 2,100MW capacity through biomass co-firing. Both Malakoff and the Ministry of Plantation and Commodities have been designated to spearhead this flagship project and Malakoff is the only public-listed company in the National Energy Transition Roadmap to do so.

Biomass is considered a renewable energy source because it comes from organic materials such as wood, agricultural residues and organic waste. Unlike coal, which is a finite fossil fuel, biomass can be replenished through sustainable practices.

Moreover, biomass combustion generally releases fewer GHG emissions compared to coal. The carbon dioxide released during biomass combustion is part of the natural carbon cycle as plants absorb carbon dioxide during their growth.

“Many existing coal-fired power plants can be adapted for biomass co-firing, whereby biomass is burned alongside coal. This allows for a gradual transition without significant infrastructure changes,” Anwar Syahrin says.

Malakoff started its biomass co-firing project in December 2022 with a 12-day trial burn at its existing coal-fired Tanjung Bin Power Plant (TBPP) at a 0.5% biomass co-firing ratio, utilising one of its coal mills.

The initial pilot phase, featuring a 2% co-firing system, is expected to be installed and commence operations in 2024. Subsequently, a second pilot phase, incorporating a separate system with a capacity of 3% to 5% co-firing, is projected to be operational by 2025. These pilot-phase systems are anticipated to use empty fruit bunch pellets as the primary biomass fuel while TBPP continues its ongoing studies and assessments of other types of biomass fuels such as wood chip pellets, rice husk pellets and palm kernel shell, subject to their availability and feasibility for co-firing.

Through co-firing, TBPP is expected to significantly reduce its GHG emissions while providing grid stability at the same time. This fits into Malaysia’s commitment to a just energy transition, focusing on ensuring an equitable shift to a greener economy.

Anwar Syahrin points out that there have been a lot of successful projects worldwide in transitioning from coal to biomass firing, including Drax Power Station in the UK, the biggest plant that has fully converted several of its coal units to biomass.

Working with experienced consultants
Malakoff has engaged with experienced consultants who played pivotal roles in the successful transformation of these pioneering facilities, working with the same consultants who have worked on the Drax power plant.

“These established plants serve as inspiring examples of sustainable energy production, showcasing the feasibility and success of this transition,” Anwar Syahrin says. “Their expertise and insights are invaluable assets as we navigate the complexities of transitioning to biomass firing, ensuring a smooth and effective adaptation that contributes to our commitment to this co-firing project,” he adds.

As part of the group’s commitments to transitioning towards a low-carbon economy, Malakoff has rolled out a sustainability framework to ensure adherence to its commitments to achieving sustainability goals. This includes achieving a renewable energy (RE) capacity of 1,400MW and reducing GHG emissions intensity by 30% by 2031 from a 2019 baseline. Other targets include 10,000 tonnes of waste collected per day by 2031 and a recycling rate of 15% to 20% from waste collected by Alam Flora Sdn Bhd by 2025.

Expanding RE portfolio
As part of plans to expand its renewable energy portfolio, Malakoff has agreed to install electric vehicle charging stations at Gas Malaysia headquarters and offices at Jalan Gurney in Kuala Lumpur. In addition, Malakoff has also entered into several strategic partnerships to advance in solar power, including a collaboration with Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company PJSC-Masdar to identify business opportunities in the investment and development of solar photovoltaic power plants with a target capacity of up to 1,000MW.

Malakoff has also secured the right to own, operate and maintain three small hydropower plants in Kuala Krai, Kelantan, with a total installed capacity of 84MW. The total net energy output produced annually by the project will offset over 272,424 tonnes of CO emissions.

“Malakoff’s key focus in the RE space is in solar, small hydro, biogas, biomass and waste-to-energy. These are key segments that provide significant growth opportunities as we pursue the energy transition pathway, in line with the government’s target of achieving a new RE capacity mix target of 70% by 2050,” Anwar Syahrin says.

Malakoff is realigning its businesses in the quest to stay relevant in a low-carbon economic model. These include finding tools that can help reduce electricity consumption in households by combining solar, battery and artificial intelligence devices that can anticipate electricity usage.

All said, Malakoff is always on the lookout for ways to bolster energy security for Malaysians while concurrently evolving the business to reduce its carbon footprint for a more sustainable and greener Malaysia, which is in line with its tagline of Enhancing Life, Enriching Communities.