Southeast Asia, with its abundant biomass resources, holds a strategic position in the global biomass energy atlas. There is immense potential of biopower in Southeast Asian countries due to plentiful supply of diverse forms of wastes such as agricultural residues, woody biomass, animal wastes, municipal solid waste, etc. The rapid economic growth and industrialization in the region has accelerated the drive to implement the latest waste-to-energy technologies in order to tap the unharnessed potential of biomass resources.
The Southeast Asian region is a big producer of wood and agricultural products which, when processed in industries, produces large amounts of biomass residues. According to conservative estimates, the amount of biomass residues generated from sugar, rice and palm oil mills is more than 200-230 million tons per year which corresponds to cogeneration potential of 16-19 GW.
In 2005, rice mills in the region produced 38 million tonnes of rice husk as solid residues. Sugar industry is an integral part of the industrial scenario in Southeast Asia accounting for about 10% of global sugar production. Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand account for 90% of global palm oil production leading to the generation of thousands of tonnes of waste per annum in the form of empty fruit bunches (EFBs), fibers and shells, as well as liquid effluent. Woody biomass is a good energy resource due to presence of large number of forests and wood processing industries in the region.
The prospects of biogas power generation are also high in the region due to the presence of well-established food-processing and dairy industries. Another important biomass resource is contributed by municipal solid wastes in heavily populated urban areas. In addition, there are increasing efforts from the public and private sectors to develop biomass energy systems for efficient biofuel production, e.g. bio-diesel from palm oil.
Current technologies for biomass utilization need urgent improvement towards best practice by making use of the latest trends in the waste-to-energy sector. Southeast Asian countries are yet to make optimum use of the additional power generation potential from biomass waste resources which could help them to partially overcome the long-term problem of energy supply. There can be several routes for dedicated power generation from biomass at various scales of power output. Cogeneration of heat and power from residues in forest-based and agro industries is being increasingly promoted by the private sector, mostly for in-house consumption. In contrast, utility companies in Western countries already supply electricity and heat from biomass to national grids and local communities.