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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Biomass: A promising resource for renewable energy development in Oman

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Biomass is one of the major energy resources that can provide energy that is made from recently living organic materials. It has also been part of our human heritage since ancient times through its use for cooking, lighting, heating, electricity generation, and transportation. Nowadays, it is also predominantly used for cooking purposes in many rural and remote areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.


Biomass, as a renewable energy source, can play a crucial role in achieving the UN’s 2050 goals for sustainable development, especially the energy goal for ensuring the access to reliable and sustainable energy at an affordable cost. Furthermore, the other related development goals such as eradication of hunger and poverty as well as the control of climate change in the context of the goals of the United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change Mitigation (1992) and the Paris Agreement (2015). The agreement is pressing all the countries to use alternatives to fossil fuels.


Sustainable development is a big challenge in Arabian region where many countries are involved in exporting and importing energy, besides the rural and remote areas where a large portion of the population lives.


Oman, like other Gulf countries, generates electricity from resources that are no longer long-lasting or sustainable. Oman's oil and gas reserves are limited in comparison to other GCC countries; hence the government is seriously working on the transition to sustainable energy alternatives. Various research investigations demonstrate that Oman can generate electricity using renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and biomass. In the total energy mix, Oman is planning to use 2 to 3% bio power within a decade.


Oman is investing extensively in energy sector, under the National Strategy to meet the growing energy demand and reduce fossil fuel utilization by boosting the use of alternative energy. As a result, in 2017 Oman Oil Company (OOC), the Sultanate's investment arm in energy-related projects, and GS Holding Korean Company together celebrated the completion of the fourth phase of the largest combined cycle biopower plant in Dangen, north of South Chongqing Province, South Korea, which has a production capacity of 900 MW from imported LNG. The plant was one of the largest bioenergy plants in the Asian continent, operates three combined cycle bioenergy plants powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) with a capacity of 1.500 MW and 100 MW.


It is worth noting that OQ Group (part of Oman Investment Authority) has an investment portfolio of more than 50 domestic and foreign investments, with 63% of its total investments concentrated in the Sultanate of Oman, and the company has contributed to the establishment of several investment projects in various industrial zones throughout the Sultanate by entering strategic partnerships with major companies operating in the energy value chain.


In this regard, on the first day of Oman Sustainability Week, Oman Environmental Services Company (be'ah) and Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPPWC) inked a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoU) to implement the Barka Waste Power Plant project. The project is currently in permitting stage. It will be developed in single phase. The project's development is anticipated to begin in 2022, with commercial operations beginning in 2023.


The waste power plant in Barka Governorate, is expected to have a capacity of 130 to 150 MW and will handle 4,500 tonnes of municipal waste per day, with a development cost of one billion US dollars. Besides providing new career opportunities in several disciplines such as management, operation, and maintenance, the project will save landfill costs and the construction of new landfills, while reducing the carbon footprint by approximately 50 million tonnes over 35 years, at a rate of 1.3 million tonnes per year, which is approximately 30% of the total carbon dioxide equivalent produced by current landfills annually, according to the Sultanate's pledges in accordance with the Paris Agreement.


As this project reflects the Sultanate's Vision 2040 for sustainability and economic diversification, it will bring many economic and environmental benefits that will contribute to the Sultanate's sustainable development goals.


In an evaluation on the use of biomass for electricity generation from two sources (animal dung and wastewater), it was reported that the biogas production from selected animal dung (cow, camel, goats, and sheep) could be up to 55.4 million cubic meter per year, with a capacity of 2604.44 GWh. The processed wastewater was estimated to be 335 thousand cubic meter per day, with a capacity to generate electricity of 47.37 GWh.


Mazoon Dairy launched the Sultanate's first biogas facility, as well as the region's first of its sort in the food processing business, in 2019. The farm planed to produce more than 270 million litres of milk per year by 2028, establishing Oman as a net exporter of dairy products within the next 20 years. The capacity will be increased to over 900 million litres by 2040. The agreement also reflects Oman LNG's tireless efforts to boost local value by providing Mazoon Dairy Company with a biogas generator to produce energy for use at its site in Al Sunainah of Al Buraimi Governorate, by leveraging biogas produced from organic waste at the company's site and transforming it into a sustainable source of renewable energy.


Towards establishing a $1.4 billion waste-to-hydrogen plant in association with United States, Oman has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Madayn (Public Establishment for Industrial Estates) for a waste-to-hydrogen facility in the Sultanate of Oman. The facility will be built on a 2 square kilometre coastal location. Besides a solar PV system and a 70MW of energy storage, the facility will have the capacity to transform up to 4 million tonnes of solid municipal waste each year. The facility will be able to produce 67,000 tonnes of green hydrogen and savings of one million tonnes of CO2, with an export value of more than $268 million.


The municipal solid waste (MSW) can be used for power production from waste-to-energy plants.


The MSW samples obtained from various entities such as residential homes, retail malls, hotels, and restaurants showed that a good volume (50%) of combustible garbage can be utilised in a waste-to-energy plant. The statistical study showed Oman's current MSW generation is 1.3 kg/per capita. Since landfilling is employed to dispose of total waste in Oman, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) criteria must be followed to control MSW emissions. If the emissions from MSW are added with the electricity generation, the total annual emissions in Oman will be around 165.205 million tonnes CO2.


Towards overcoming issues with CO2 emissions, a waste-to-energy plant with a capacity of 5000 tonnes per day is proposed to use waste from the governorates of Muscat, North Al Batinah, Al-Dakhiliya, South Al Batinah, South Al Sharqiya, North Al Shariqiya, and Al-Dhahirah. Aside from producing 29.30 million kWh per day, this facility will be able to drastically reduce MSW and energy production emissions in Oman. The annual emission reduction from this waste-to-energy plant is anticipated to be 24,527 million kg CO2. Since Oman is current progressing towards meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), such a waste-to-energy plant venture will assist fulfilling the same.


In Oman, renewable energy sources are plentiful and promising, and government planning with institutional participation is pioneering. We anticipate that the media will throw light on the many successful experiences, with increasing societal awareness and the collaboration of researchers and academics toward a better and more complete energy reality in Oman.


(The author is a lecturer at the University of Technology and Applied Sciences - Shinas. She can be contacted at alnoflimaryam@gmail.com)


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