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Ratnasingam, J., Ramasamy, G., Wai, L. T., Senin, A. L., and Muttiah, N. (2015). "The prospects of rubberwood biomass energy production in Malaysia," BioRes. 10(2), 2526-2548.


Rubber has been shown to be one of the most important plantation crops in Malaysia, and rubber tree biomass has widespread applications in almost all sectors of the wood products manufacturing sector. Despite its abundance, the exploitation of rubberwood biomass for energy generation is limited when compared to other available biomass such as oil palm, rice husk, cocoa, sugarcane, coconut, and other wood residues. Furthermore, the use of biomass for energy generation is still in its early stages in Malaysia, a nation still highly dependent on fossil fuels for energy production. The constraints for large scale biomass energy production in Malaysia are the lack of financing for such projects, the need for large investments, and the limited research and development activities in the sector of efficient biomass energy production. The relatively low cost of energy in Malaysia, through the provision of subsidy, also restricts the potential utilization of biomass for energy production. In order to fully realize the potential of biomass energy in Malaysia, the environmental cost must be factored into the cost of energy production.

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The Prospects of Rubberwood Biomass Energy Production in Malaysia

Jegatheswaran Ratnasingam,a Geetha Ramasamy,a,* Lim Tau Wai,a Abdul Latib Senin,a and Neelakandan Muttiah b

Rubber has been shown to be one of the most important plantation crops in Malaysia, and rubber tree biomass has widespread applications in almost all sectors of the wood products manufacturing sector. Despite its abundance, the exploitation of rubberwood biomass for energy generation is limited when compared to other available biomass such as oil palm, rice husk, cocoa, sugarcane, coconut, and other wood residues. Furthermore, the use of biomass for energy generation is still in its early stages in Malaysia, a nation still highly dependent on fossil fuels for energy production. The constraints for large scale biomass energy production in Malaysia are the lack of financing for such projects, the need for large investments, and the limited research and development activities in the sector of efficient biomass energy production. The relatively low cost of energy in Malaysia, through the provision of subsidy, also restricts the potential utilization of biomass for energy production. In order to fully realize the potential of biomass energy in Malaysia, the environmental cost must be factored into the cost of energy production.

Keywords: Rubberwood; Biomass; Energy source; Energy generation

Contact information: a: Universiti Putra Malaysia, Faculty of Forestry, 43400 UPM, Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia; b: Centre for Energy Sustainability, Energy Consultants Pte. Ltd, No. 8-Block 2 Selegie Centre, Brass Road, 54360 Singapore; *Corresponding author:


The cultivation of rubber in Malaysia began in 1879 in Kuala Kangsar, eventually resulting in a booming rubber industry. Since independence, the rubber industry has become one of the most important socio-economic sectors in the country, both in terms of foreign exchange earnings as well as rural economic development (Ratnasingam et al. 2012). In recent years however, Malaysia has been replaced as the largest producer of rubber in the world (Balsiger et al. 2000) to the third position after Indonesia and Thailand (Shigematsu et al. 2011). Despite that, the export earnings from the rubber industry reached more than 3 billion USD per annum over the last few years and provided employment to almost 75,000 people in the country (Ratnasingam and Scholz 2009). Hence, the country is still regarded as the leader in the rubber industry, both in terms of its cultivation as well as its utilization (Ratnasingam et al. 2012).

Sir Henry Wickham is renowned for introducing rubber to several countries in Asia, including Malaysia. The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) originally grew in the wild in its native home in the Amazon Forest of Brazil, before it was cultivated as a plantation tree-crop (Ratnasingam et al. 2011) to meet the high demand for latex and natural rubber from the manufacturing sector. Although rubber is planted extensively in 20 countries for latex production (Teoh et al. 2011), Southeast Asia is the world leader for natural rubber production given that more than 70% of rubber in the world is cultivated in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia (Shigematsu et al. 2011).

Apart from latex, the rubber tree also produces a large quantity of biomass. It is estimated that a standing tree can produce up to 2.1 m3 of biomass, including the trunk, branches, twigs, and leaves (Ratnasingam and Scholz 2009). The woody biomass, previously discarded as waste, has found new application as the primary raw material for the booming wood industry in Malaysia, especially when the supply of logs from the natural forests started to dwindle from the mid-1980s (Menon 2000). Considering the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels for energy and for environmental conservation, energy from biomass is becoming an increasingly important topic in Malaysia. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to explore the viability of rubberwood biomass for energy production in comparison to other biomass available in Malaysia. The challenges and constraints to energy production from biomass will also be discussed.


Rubber cultivation in Malaysia is undertaken by large estate owners and individual small holders. Large estate owners, which have largely been international companies such as Guthrie, Sime Darby, Golden Hope, KLK, and IOI, have been reducing their rubber cultivation over the years (Fig. 1). The main reason has been the low price of natural rubber, which has resulted in estate owners switching to the more profitable commodities, predominantly oil palm (Teoh et al. 2011). On the other hand, smallholdings managed by agencies such as the Rubber Industry Smallholder Development Authority (RISDA), Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), and Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (FELCRA), have been increasing their rubber cultivation acreage due to subsidies provided to the small holders (Ratnasingam et al. 2011).

Fig. 1. Rubber plantation areas in Malaysia (thousand hectares)

Table 1 represents the production of rubberwood biomass in Malaysia, based on an annual replanting rate of 3% of cultivated area. This calculation was made based on several assumptions: (i) the replanting activity was carried out as per schedule, and (ii) all above-ground biomass up to 10 cm in diameter was extracted from the field. Given these data, it is clear that a large amount of rubberwood biomass becomes available on an annual basis in Malaysia.

Table 1. Production of Rubberwood Biomass


Rubberwood is regarded as the most important raw material for the wood industry in Malaysia, and its potential was recognized as early as the 1950s. However, the plentiful supply of wood materials from natural forests held back the acceptance of processing rubberwood for wood products. This was further hampered by the low durability of the wood. Efforts taken by the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) and the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (MTIB) in the mid-1970s promoted the use of rubberwood in wood products manufacturing sectors such as sawmilling, medium density fibreboard, particleboard, laminated veneer lumber, plywood, glulam, laminated finger-jointed boards, veneer, cement-bonded board, builders carpentry and joinery, flooring, door, pulp, and furniture (Hong and Sim 1994).

The success of rubberwood as a raw material for wood products manufacturing can be attributed to its pleasant appearance, light colour, abundant availability, good mechanical properties, low cost, and its renewable image (Ratnasingam et al. 2011). Further, Shigematsu et al. (2011) suggested that the high proportion of export of rubberwood products was due to logging control on natural forests, which limited the supply of natural forest wood, and that rubberwood is still the most widespread type of plantation material in Malaysia. Ratnasingam and Scholz (2009) pointed out that the commercial success of rubberwood as a raw material of international standing is due to the continuous effort of industrial players, namely Masco Corporation, Hong Teak Furniture Industry, and UMW Furniture Industries, who championed the use of rubberwood in knock-down furniture products exported to the United States since 1979. In fact, it is undeniable that the partnership between the public and private sectors has led to the successful utilization of rubberwood in Malaysia, and is possibly a feat to be followed by other countries (Ratnasingam et al. 2012). Table 2 shows the overall total export value (RM million) of rubberwood products which has been steadily growing over the years.

Table 2. The Export Value of Rubberwood Sub-sectors (RM million)

Sawn Timber

India and Sri Lanka began processing rubberwood into sawn timber in the early 1950s, due to the scarcity of logs. The turning point was the fact that Malaysia was the first country to export rubberwood sawn timber in the late 1970s (Hong 1994). Hong and Sim (1994) pointed out that the export of this product from Peninsular Malaysia has been increasing over the years until June 1990, when the export levy was imposed on rubberwood sawn timber. This was followed by the imposition of an export quota on rubberwood sawn timber by the government of Malaysia in an effort to ensure sufficient supply of rubberwood sawn timber to the value added products industries (Hong 1995).

Panel Products

Mohd Shahwahid and Abdul Rahim (2009) stated that the use of rubberwood for medium density fibreboard manufacturing was a considerable success. As is shown in Table 2, the export value of medium density fibreboard (MDF) was the second largest after rubberwood furniture. Rubberwood biomass is also used in the production of other panel products such as blockboard, plywood, particleboard, and cement bonded particleboard.

Furniture Industry

Although the supply of rubberwood has been argued to be insufficient by furniture manufacturers in Malaysia, the export value of rubberwood furniture has shown significant progress over the years (Table 2). In fact, rubberwood furniture exports make up 80% of the total furniture exports from Malaysia (Ratnasingam et al. 2011).

Other Commercial Production

Although the export value of chipboard, mouldings, builders carpentry and joinery (BCJ), and wooden frames from rubberwood fluctuated from 2000 to 2013 (Table 2), these products are still considered as important contributors to the economy of the nation (Ratnasingam et al. 2011).


From the perspective of using rubberwood as fuel, it is apparent that rubberwood is a promising candidate as an alternative renewable energy source. In addition, the conversion technologies such as combustion, pyrolysis (Tan 1989; Shaaban et al. 2013) and gasification (Kaewluan and Pipatmanomai 2011; Adisurjosatyo et al. 2012) have been used to generate energy from rubberwood biomass. In fact, Lim et al. (2000) identified that the energy content of rubberwood can be as high as about 68.61 million gigajoules (GJ) per year or 40.04 GJ per hectare per year. Based on this estimation of energy content, Table 3 summarizes the potential energy production that could be realized from the rubberwood waste available for fuel.

Table 3. Estimation of Energy Generation from Rubberwood Waste as Fuel

As shown in Table 3, the energy supply from rubberwood waste reduced significantly owing to the reduction in rubber cultivation area, which consequently decreased the available amount of rubberwood biomass.

However, biomass in Malaysia contributes about 14% of the approximately 2.074 billion GJ of energy used every year according to Chuah et al. (2006). The relatively small amount of on-site waste in rubber processing activities means that it is a fairly low priority area for biomass-based renewable energy development. The major waste stream from replanting involves a variety of issues related to transporting to a central generation facility, which has a negative impact on the potential of this biomass for fuel.

Energy Use Pattern in Malaysia

The global demand for energy is fulfilled predominantly by fossil fuels, namely oil, coal, and natural gas, which are anticipated to be exhausted in the next 40 to 50 years (Koh and Hoi 2003). Certainly, this is also a matter of concern for Malaysia, as the rate of energy demand was projected to increase 5% to 7% annually for the next two decades (Hosseini and Abdul Wahid 2014). The industrial sector consumes 43% of the total energy demand, exceeding the 36% energy use accounted for by the transportation sector (Chandran et al. 2010; Koh and Lim 2010). The two main factors that contribute to the rapid depletion of fossil fuels are economic development and population growth (Goh et al.2010; Shafie et al. 2012; Mekhilef et al. 2014). The population in Malaysia increased from 17.7 million in 1997 to 27.73 million in 2008 (Ong et al. 2011). Rosnazri et al. (2012) stated that the population in Malaysia may increase to as high as 33.4 million in 2020 and, possibly, to 37.4 million in 2030. This is expected to increase energy consumption significantly.

Generally, industrial and economic development in a country drives high consumption of energy, particularly electricity (Shafie et al. 2011). In the case of Malaysia, consumption has increased from 71 million GJ in 1990 to 310 million GJ in 2007, an increment of 337%. In fact, the period from 1990 to 2000 marked the period of rapid economic growth where double digit growth was recorded in the demand for electricity (Tick et al. 2011). In addition, the demand for electricity per capita was projected to be about 757 kwh/person by the year 2030 (Hosseini and Abdul Wahid 2014). Siti Indiati et al. (2010) explained that this high energy demand is inevitable and is expected to reach 130 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE) in 2030. Although Malaysia possesses a relatively plentiful supply of fossil fuels, the country will deplete its energy sources as it is predicted to hold out only for the next 30 to 40 years. Table 4 shows the energy consumption pattern in Malaysia, as reported in the 5th Fuel Diversification Policy (FDP) of the country.

Fossil fuels remain the primary source of fossil fuels in Malaysia (Hoi 1999; Shafie et al. 2012; Mekhilef et al. 2014), and their continued use poses negative environmental consequences. Past and current economic growth in the country has been primarily fuelled by fossil fuels and little attention has been paid to other energy sources. The provision of energy subsidies, especially for gasoline, of up to RM 0.50 per litres continue to pose challenges to explore and develop new potential energy sources (Chuah et al. 2006).

Renewable energy, including biomass energy, must be seriously explored in Malaysia if this trend is to be changed. Figure 2 shows the current state of rubberwood biomass utilization in Malaysia. It is clear that the amount of rubberwood biomass available as a fuel source is quite limited. In fact, a large portion of rubberwood biomass has found application in the wood products manufacturing industry of Malaysia.

Table 4. Primary Energy Supplies in Malaysia (million Gigajoules)

Fig. 2. Rubberwood biomass production and yield status in Malaysia in 2013

Source: Ratnasingam et al. (2012)

These calculations are based on several assumptions: (i) that replanting activity is carried out per schedule, (ii) all above ground biomass up to 10 cm in diameter is extracted from the field, and (iii) waste and residue from the secondary milling activities is used in the panel products sector. Therefore, there is apparently sufficient biomass to meet the demand of the various wood product sectors, provided that the biomass is fully recovered and utilized efficiently. From an agronomic perspective, with the average recorded growth rate for rubber cultivation areas in Malaysia of 15 m3/ha/year, the country should be able to sustain the demand for rubberwood from the wood industry, provided that biomass recovery is maximized (Shigematsu et al. 2011; Ratnasingam et al. 2012).

Figure 3 shows the energy supply deficit scenario assuming the use of rubberwood biomass. The energy supply deficit indicates that rubberwood biomass could only contribute to a small amount of the total energy demand in Malaysia. Therefore, rubberwood biomass can only play a very minor role in energy production in the country.

Fig. 3. Energy supply deficit from rubberwood biomass


Malaysia has several sources of renewable energy, namely solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower. Among all the renewable energy sources, biomass seems to have the highest potential to be exploited as a renewable energy source (Tock et al. 2010). Several types of biomass available in Malaysia are listed in Table 5.

Fatin Demirbas et al. (2007) stated that the energy from biomass contributed 10% to 15% of the total energy consumed in the world, which is estimated to be 45 exajoules (EJ). Table 6 provides the energy value of biomass resources in comparison to other renewable energy sources.

Table 5. Types and Quantities of Biomass Produced Annually in Malaysia

Table 6. The Energy Value of Renewable Energy

Chuah et al. (2006) showed a significant potential for biomass energy production in Malaysia, but this has not been fully realized (Table 7). Shuit et al. (2009) highlighted that the use of biomass as a renewable energy is considered very low in Malaysia and it accounts for only 14% of the total energy produced in the country.

Agricultural Residues

The main agricultural crops in Malaysia consist of oil palm, rubber, cocoa, rice, and coconut. Among these crops, oil palm and rubber plantations are the major plantations in terms of acreage. The Malaysian government is focused on using biomass from oil palm processing activities, which includes empty fruit bunches (EFB), fibre, and shells to produce energy. In fact, a considerable amount of literature is available to show that oil palm biomass dominates the biomass energy industry (Chuah et al. 2006; Shamsuddin 2010; Sulaiman et al. 2011; Shafie et al. 2012; Seyed Ehsan and Mazlan 2014). Salsabila et al. (2011) highlighted that biomass from oil palm waste accounts for about 85.5% of the total biomass available in Malaysia (Fig. 4). This trend is inevitable, as Malaysia is among the largest palm oil producers in the world (Ong et al. 2011).

Table 7. Category of Biomass Production and Estimation of the Biomass Energy Productivity in Malaysia

Fig. 4. The types of biomass in Malaysia

As the leading producer and exporter of palm oil in the world, Malaysia has 362 operational oil mills (Mohamed and Lee 2006) as of 2013. These mills process 71.3 million tonnes of fresh oil palm fruit bunches per year, which produces 19 million tonnes of biomass per year in the form of empty fruit bunches, shells, and fibre (Ong et al. 2012).

On the contrary, biomass from rubber has not been recognized as a significant energy source. This is mainly due to the fact that the total rubber cultivation area in Malaysia has been declining over the years, while oil palm cultivation has been increasing due to its higher profitability (Fig. 5).

In a recent study by Ratnasingam and Jones (2011), it is shown that rubberwood cultivation and processing is viable and profitable under the following conditions: (i) the minimum volume of biomass (up to 10 cm) recovered should be above 180 m3 per hectare; (ii) the minimum volume of sawn logs produced should be 45 m3 per hectare; (iii) the average cost of saw-logs per m3 should be 60 USD; (iv) the minimum volume of sawn timber produced should be 15 m3 per hectare; (v) the approximate processing cost, excluding preservative treatment and kiln drying costs, should be approximately 60 USD per m3; (vi) the average preservative treatment and kiln drying costs should be 75 USD per m3; and (vii) the minimum sawn timber price should be approximately 380 USD per m3 or more. It was found that in most instances these conditions were not met and the rubber growers suffered from reducing profits.

Fig. 5. Total cultivation area of rubber and oil palm (Sources: Rubber Research Institute Malaysia 2014; Malaysian Palm Oil Board 2014)

According to Yusof et al. (2008), rice husk from rice mills has become the third most important biomass resource, after oil palm and wood waste, for energy production. Besides rice husk, biomass from paddy straws is also an important source (Shafie et al. 2012). Other biomasses from sugarcane, coconut, and cocoa cultivation are of minor importance because of their lesser available quantities per annum (Mekhilef et al. 2011; Shafie et al. 2012).

Wood Residues

Wood residues are divided into two main categories: logging residues and wood-based industries residues. Wood-based industries residues are comprised of sawmilling, plywood, veneer, and secondary processing residues (Mekhilef et al. 2011). It is estimated that the amount of wood residues from the logging, primary, plywood, and secondary industries are 5.1, 2.92, 0.91, and 0.90 million m3per annum, respectively (Noridah et al. 2014). However, energy production from wood residue is rather inefficient due to the large mixture of wood waste from many different species that have different calorific characteristics. As a result, energy production from wood residues is often confined to large mills with boilers that use this waste for energy and heating steam production. Since direct combustion of biomass is not recommended due to its low efficiency and high pollutants emission, flameless combustion of biomass appears to be the best method for boilers (Abuelnuor et al. 2014).

When compared to other biomasses, the potential energy generation from rubberwood biomass appears to be mixed. However, Table 8 shows that oil palm empty fruit bunches has a higher potential energy production compared to rubberwood. This explains why energy production from oil palm empty fruit bunches is very common in many plantations throughout the country, especially in close proximity to oil palm mills. Although the potential energy generation for rubberwood is estimated to be 60.75 PJ, the larger oil palm cultivation area in the country makes oil palm biomass abundantly available, which in turn encourages its use for energy generation.

Table 8. Comparison of Potential Energy Generation between Rubberwood and other Biomasses


Malaysia is a country with an abundance of renewable biomass such as EFB fibre, saw dust, straw, rice husk, and wood chips, which suggests that Malaysia has a high potential to produce pellets for energy. From a commercial perspective, production of pellets from rubberwood has been more successful compared to pellets from empty oil palm fruit bunches. This is because oil palm EFB has high condensates and its heat generating capacity is comparatively low. The calorific values of rubberwood and oil palm biomass pellets are shown in Table 9.

Table 9. Calorific Value (CV) of Rubberwood and Oil Palm Biomass Fuels

Pellet production from oil palm EFB fibres is limited and confined to local market use only. On the other hand, the densified rubberwood pellets made from chips and sawdust offer better and more uniform heating properties per unit volume. It burns cleaner and produces fewer particulate emissions compared to coal. Furthermore, rubberwood pellets are more economical to transport due to their increased bulk density. This application of the rubberwood biomass reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, which increases overall profitability through an integrated and more efficient use of the waste. Wood pellets are increasingly becoming an important energy source due to the increasing price of fossil fuels in the world market. Furthermore, wood pellets are an ideal energy alternative for biomass power plants and they produce comparatively lower fume discharge during burning.

Rubberwood and oil palm biomass have unique chemical compositions. Table 10 and Table 11 show the properties of these biomasses by proximate and ultimate analyses. Rubberwood tends to have lower ash and nitrogen content compared to oil palm biomass. Table 12 shows the comparative inorganic residues left on the field by rubberwood and palm fibre biomass. One notable point is the higher sulfur trioxide (SO3) content in palm fibre which indicates the possibility of higher SO3 emissions that could lead to health and environmental problems.

Table 10. Proximate Analyses of Rubberwood and Oil Palm Biomass Fuels (wt% of dry fuel)

Table 11. Ultimate Analyses of Rubberwood and Oil Palm Biomass Fuels (wt% of dry fuel with ash)

Table 12. Inorganic Residues from Rubberwood and Oil Palm Biomass Fuels

Due to the high demand for rubberwood from the wood products manufacturing industry, the amount of rubberwood biomass available for energy production is significantly lower compared to the oil palm biomass available. Furthermore, the production of one cubic meter of wood products from rubberwood has an average value of 890 USD compared to one cubic meter of rubberwood pellets, which has a value of only 63 USD. As a result, interest in wood pellet production is very much at an infancy stage in Malaysia. On the other hand, the production of energy from oil palm biomass is comparatively more visible as cogeneration of energy and heating steam is widely practiced in most oil palm mills in the country (Yusuf et al. 1993; Ma and Yusof 2005).


Biomass is an advantageous renewable resource that can be used as a fuel to produce electricity and other forms of energy. Biomass feedstock is any organic matter available on a renewable basis for conversion to energy. Agricultural crops and residues, industrial wood and logging residues, farm animal wastes, and the organic portion of municipal waste are all types of biomass feedstock. Biomass fuels, also known as biofuels, either in solid, liquid, or gas form, are derived from biomass feedstock. Biofuel technologies can efficiently transform the energy in biomass into transportation, heating, and electricity generating fuels (Sorda et al. 2010; Adenle et al. 2013).

Biomass is a proven option for electricity generation (Muis et al. 2010; Shafie et al. 2012). Biomass used in today’s power plants includes wood residues, agricultural residues, food processing residues such as nut shells and methane gas from landfills (Zamzam Jaafar et al. 2003). In the future, farms cultivating energy crops such as trees and grasses could significantly expand the supply of biomass feedstock. For instance, the pulp and paper industry, the wood manufacturing industry, electric utilities, and independent power producers could own these power plants for the benefit of society amidst the increasing global cost of energy.

Socioeconomic Implications

The use of biomass as an alternative energy source could bolster the economy of Malaysia by providing job opportunities in rural areas as well as making use of wood waste and agricultural residues. Use of biomass can reduce the dependence on out-of-state and foreign energy sources, as is currently the case in many developing countries. The cultivation of biomass energy crops could be a profitable venture for farmers, which will complement their source of income. Crops for biomass energy production may be grown on currently underutilized agricultural land, which will create jobs for rural communities. Expanded biomass power deployment can create high-skilled and high-value job opportunities for utility, power equipment, and agricultural equipment industries (Domac et al. 2005; Faaij and Domac 2006; Verdonk et al. 2007; Lim and Lee 2010).

Environmental Implications

Generally, global climate change is attributed to the excessive burning of fossil fuels for energy (von Hippel et al. 1993; Hoel and Kverndokk 1996; Shafie et al. 2012). Since the industrial revolution in the late 18th century, the use of fossil fuels has catalysed the economic development of many nations (Reddy 2002). It is undeniable that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to the release of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Tock et al. (2010) reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 30% with an increase of about 0.5% every year. According to Hosseini et al. (2013), the rate of CO2 generation has been rising fast over the last 50 years. It is estimated that 30 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted annually to the environment as a result of human activities. Figure 6 shows the total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in Malaysia, which have been increasing yearly since 1998 (Lim and Lee 2010). Besides that, other greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide are also released into the air, but their cumulative effects are vague. As a result of these greenhouse gas emissions, the average temperature has increased by 0.5 °C to 1.5 °C in Peninsular Malaysia, while the temperature rise in East Malaysia is approximately 1 °C (Shafie et al. 2012).

Fig. 6. Malaysia total carbon dioxide emission from consumption of fossil fuels. (Source: Lim and Lee 2010)

The value for CO2 emissions in metric tons per capita in Malaysia was 7.67 as of 2010. As shown in Fig. 7, over the past 41 years this indicator has reached a maximum value of 7.81 in 2008 and a minimum value of 1.34 in 1970. Carbon dioxide is produced during the consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring (CDIAC 2014).

Fig. 7. CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons) in Malaysia

Carbon dioxide emissions from liquid fuel consumption in Malaysia were reported to be 32.60% of the total fuel consumed in 2010. The highest value over the past 41 years was 94.32% in 1970, while its lowest value was 29.64% in 2006 (Fig. 8). The CO2 emission from liquid fuel consumption shown in Fig. 8 refers mainly to emissions from the use of petroleum-derived fuels.

Fig. 8. CO2 Emissions from liquid fuel consumption (% of total)

Carbon dioxide emissions from solid fuel consumption in Malaysia were reported to be 28.40% of the total of fuel consumed in 2010 (Fig. 9). Its highest value over the past 41 years was 28.40% in 2010, while its lowest value was 0.20% in 1972. The CO2 emission from solid fuel consumption shown in Fig. 9 refers mainly to emissions from the use of coal as an energy source (CDIAC 2014).

Fig. 9. CO2 emissions from solid fuel consumption (% of total)

Considering these facts, biomass energy may be considered a promising alternative energy source in Malaysia. Furthermore, biomass energy has several unique advantages. Biomass fuels produce virtually no sulphur emissions and help to mitigate acid rain (Arndt et al. 1997; Velásquez-Arredondo et al. 2010). These biomasses help to recycle atmospheric carbon, minimizing global warming impacts since zero net carbon dioxide is emitted during biomass combustion. For instance, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted is equal to the amount absorbed from the atmosphere during the biomass growth phase (Van De Broek et al. 1996; Velásquez-Arredondo et al. 2010). The recycling of biomass waste reduces the need to create new landfills and extends the life of existing landfills. Biomass combustion produces less ash content than coal and can reduce ash disposal costs and landfill space requirements. The biomass ash can also be used as a soil amendment in farm land.

Perennial energy crops such as grasses and trees have distinctly lower environmental impacts than conventional agricultural crops. Energy crops require less fertilization and herbicides, and provide greater vegetative cover throughout the year, providing protection against soil erosion and watershed quality deterioration, as well as improved wildlife cover.


High Demand from Wood Industry

It is anticipated that there will be slight improvement in the outlook for the supply of rubberwood for energy production over the next several years. This is primarily due to the high demand of rubberwood from the wood-based manufacturing sector (Hong 1994; Ratnasingam and Jones 2011). In reality, the demand for rubberwood has been increasing by almost 5% per annum and accounts for almost 86% of the total wood material consumed by the value-added wood products manufacturing sector in Malaysia (Ratnasingam et al. 2012). In order to cope with the insufficient supply, about 220,000 m3 of sawn rubberwood was imported into Malaysia in 2013. The existing scenario in the high utilization of rubberwood biomass by the wood products sector in Malaysia leaves very little room for large scale energy production from this biomass.

On the other hand, the large quantities of other types of biomass such as oil palm, paddy husk, cocoa, coconut, and sugarcane bagasse appears to have much better viability for energy production. Apart from being used as mulch, fertilizers, and soil amelioration agents, this biomass has untapped potential for energy production on a large commercial scale (Faaij et al. 1998; Ignaciuk and Dellink 2006). Nevertheless, the problems associated with the logistics, variable qualities, stock, and transportation distance must be tackled first if this objective is to be realized.

Limited Research and Development (R&D)

The attention given by the related research and development (R&D) agencies towards the exploitation of biomass for energy production is undeniable. However, as reported by Shamsudin (2010), the extensive R&D activities on the topic of biomass energy are focused on oil palm biomass due to its abundant availability. On the other hand, R&D activities by the rubber industry related agencies, such as the Rubber Industry Smallholding Development Agency of Malaysia (RISDA) and the Malaysian Rubber Board (RRM), are very much concentrated on natural rubber or latex and the yield of rubber plantations (Shigematsu et al. 2011). Although Malaysia has a national blue-print for biomass energy production, its implementation is rather weak due to the lack of interest among industry players. The fact that biomass energy production requires a large capital outlay means that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that dominate the wood-based sector are not capable of venturing into this business. As a result, much of the biomass energy is produced by large mill operators in order to fulfil their own energy demands. Although the excess energy produced by the large mills can be fed into the national power grid, the quota system in place for the in-feed tariffs (IFT) for such energy producers has prevented many potential small and medium sized energy producers from venturing into biomass energy production (Mohd Shaharin et al. 2014).

Financial Constraints

Lack of financial resources is one of the main barriers for the development of biomass-based power generation projects in Malaysia. Most of the projects are small, relatively new, and require high capital investments. This is further worsened by the fact that financial institutions are reluctant to finance bioenergy projects as it is deemed to be an infant industry with a high risk factor (Shamsuddin 2010). Sumiani and Roozbeh (2012) listed the high capital costs, lack of experience, low investor confidence, limited access to capital and consumer credit, and the absence of appropriate financing modes as the main financial constraints for biomass energy development in Malaysia.


  1. The abundant rubberwood biomass in Malaysia is used extensively in the wood products sector. As a result, energy production from this biomass is limited when compared to the possibility of energy production from other lesser used biomass such as oil palm, rice husk, cocoa, sugarcane, and coconut as well as wood residues from forest and wood-based industries. However, the present use of these biomasses for energy production is limited due to logistical and cost factors.
  2. Biomass energy production in Malaysia is very much at an infant stage, compared to energy produced from fossil fuels. The large capital outlay required for the establishment of biomass power plants limits the opportunity for small and medium sized enterprises from generating biomass energy. Further, the lack of end financing for such projects together with the limited research and development on efficient production of biomass energy are the other constraints facing the bioenergy sector in the country. The fact that energy is subsidized to keep its cost low in Malaysia is another hidden factor that limits the demand for biomass energy. Until the environmental implications are factored into the cost of energy production, the full potential of energy production from biomass may not be realized in Malaysia.


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Article submitted: November 21, 2014; Peer review completed: February 13, 2015; Revised version received: February 26, 2015; Accepted: February 27, 2015; Published: March 5, 2015.

DOI: 10.15376/biores.10.2.2526-2548