Palm oil production contributes to climate change, study claims

March 3, 2014

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder believe that wastewater produced during the processing of palm oil is a source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Palm oil production has been a topic of heated debate over the past few years, as many environmental organizations have claimed that building new plants leads to the deforestation. A new study by the University of Colorado Boulder has added another cause for concern, stating that palm oil production releases methane and contributes to climate change.

Palm oil is a widely used product in food production and processing and, because of the high global demand for it, numerous new plants have been constructed in recent years. However, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder believe that wastewater produced during the processing of palm oil is a source of methane, which causes greenhouse gas effects and damages the ozone layer. They have estimated that methane produced from just a single palm oil wastewater lagoon over the course of a year equals the emissions released from 22,000 U.S. cars. In 2014, total methane emissions from palm oil wastewater worldwide are predicted to reach almost one-third of all fossil fuel emissions in Indonesia, the University of Colorado Boulder said.

RELATED: US methane emissions exceed EPA estimates by 50%, study finds

Philip Taylor, a postdoctoral researcher at the university's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and lead author of the study, commented that the palm oil industry's contribution to methane emissions was "largely overlooked." The researchers claim that methane from palm oil wastewater could be captured and used to fuel power plants, which would mitigate its harmful effect on the environment.

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