UK company supplies palm kernel shells for biomass power

By Anna Austin
A U.K. company originally focused on supplying materials for the solar industry has expanded to the biomass industry, providing wood chips, bamboo and palm kernel shells to customers on several eastern hemisphere continents.

Opean Energy Managing Director Odera Ume-Ezeoke said the company has offices or partners in each country it sources biomass from, which includes Ghana and Indonesia. "We started out aiming to bridge the supply gap in the clean commodity market where there appeared to be a real problem tracking down reliable supplies of silicon for solar panel production," she said. "Now, we've expanded our products to focus and solve similar problems in the biomass industry by physically trading to supply our clients with the biomass they seek."

Opean Energy was formed in 2005, Ume-Ezeoke said, but its focus on biomass didn't begin until early 2009, when it began developing its supply chain. "In the fourth quarter of 2009 we started marketing our supplies," she said. "We chose to expand from silicon to biomass because as clean commodities, the products shared a lot of similarities as bulk products focused on the production of clean power, and used by a mainly industrial client base. Our silicon background essentially gave us a jogging start in the industry."

Opean supplies customers with bamboo pellets, wood chips and pellets, and palm kernel shells, a waste product of palm oil production. "Smaller quantities of items like bamboo, we have around 5,000 metric tons (5,500 tons) per month at present," Ume-Ezeoke said. "For wood chips, pellets and palm kernel shells, we have a supply capacity of around 20,000 to 40,000 metric tons per month of each, either on a FOB (free on board) or CIF (cost insured freight) basis."

According to Opean Energy, on an annual basis there are 3.2 million tons of palm kernel shells available in Indonesia and 3.1 million tons in Malaysia. The shells compare favorably as a boiler fuel source due to their relatively high calorific value of 4,320 kilocalories per kilogram (16 Btu per 154 pounds), abundance of supply, ease of use and per tonnage cost.

Palm kernel shells are versatile and have multiple uses, Ume-Ezeoke added. "It can be used in its natural form for fuel at power stations, as a clean alternative to coal, to form activated carbon or to pave roads. We're reducing emissions of EU power stations by encouraging them to burn biomass instead of coal, and also promoting and enabling enterprise in developing countries where we source our biomass from."