The Malaysian government has made a strong commitment to utilise the huge amount of biomass available for the generation of energy and other high-value products. Since the production of biomass, i.e. plant matter such as forestry, agricultural crops and residues, requires a large amount of land and water, competes with food production and can affect the ecosystem (e.g. deforestation, leaching of fertilisers and pesticides into water bodies), there is a delicate balance between all of these elements. Together, these are known as the environment-food-energy-water nexus and all of the benefits associated with the use of biomass to meet our requirements for energy and other products must be considered along with the potential damage to the nexus as a whole. Therefore, it is important not only to understand how best to exploit the great potential of biomass in Malaysia but also to understand the detailed interactions among all of the elements in the nexus.
In this project, we will explore all of the possibilities for producing energy and high-value products from biomass that also maintain the balance in the nexus. To understand the potential for growing biomass in Malaysia, we will use detailed maps of existing land use and soil quality, water availability, quality and tolerance to contamination, and climate projections in terms of temperature and rainfall. Processing facilities that convert the biomass to energy or other chemicals will be researched and a database of all such technologies will be built, including a site suitability analysis. Thus, we can build a detailed and rich representation of the influence, on the whole of the nexus, of the types of biomass grown, where they are grown, the types of technologies used (and therefore the products that will be made from biomass) and where they are located. An optimisation model will then be used to determine the combinations of crops grown and technologies used to convert biomass to energy and high-value products (thus forming a biomass value chain) that provide the greatest benefit with the lowest impact on the nexus. Studies will be performed at local, regional and national scales, all of which will consider the spatial nature of the problem since transport of the biomass from the productions sites to the locations of the technologies will have an impact on the environment element of the nexus. Similarly, we will consider different time scales so that short-term considerations, such as storage of materials and energy, can be considered and the longer-term decisions around the effects of climate change and technology investments can be considered. These time representations are important because the transition and pathways from current practice to the future system can also affect the nexus.
The database, optimisation model and a user-friendly interface will be deployed into a toolkit. It is envisaged that this toolkit will be used by policy-makers and stakeholders to drive national strategies for effective utilisation of biomass and nexus resources and promote sustainable biomass-based opportunities.