Asia: Second generation biofuels cut carbon emissions in China, India and Sri Lanka

Across Asia, Unilever factories are experimenting with biomass- fuelled boilers to cut carbon emissions and provide additional sources of income for communities.

Biofuels ready for burning at Hefei factoryFrom waste to fuel

At its Hefei factory in China's Anhui province, Unilever is using agricultural waste as a fuel in the manufacture of laundry powder. Straw, corn stalk and even peanut shell-powered burners are cutting carbon emissions by 15 000 tonnes annually – 32% of total site emissions – while reducing fuel costs by 50%.

Anhui is an agricultural province that produces a surplus of hay. Previously farmers burnt the straw and used the ash as a source of nutrition for their soil, but large-scale burning caused severe air pollution and even interfered with local flights. Strict emissions controls at the factory mean air quality is protected and the ash, once produced, is used to make bricks.

Biofuels burning in Pondicherry factory boilerThe Hefei boiler uses technology developed by our factories in India, where we first started harnessing agricultural waste products for fuel. There we use groundnut shells, bagasse (fibrous waste from crushed sugarcane), sawdust, coconut shells and cashew kernels.  None of these has an alternative use but they have a high calorific value, meaning they make excellent fuel. Energy costs have fallen by 30% at the three factories using biofuels: Chiplun, Maharashtra and Pondicherry. The results are so successful that plans are in place to extend the scheme to other factories across the country. 

Further rollout

The savings are being replicated elsewhere too. In Sri Lanka, coconut shells and sawdust are being burnt to generate steam in the country's first biomass-powered boiler at our foods factory at Agrapatna. Biofuel boiler at Agrapatna factoryThe move means that 85% of the energy used by the factory will come from renewable sources, while SOx emissions will be cut by 80%. It is also creating new jobs for between 50 and 75 people who are needed to source and collect the waste materials, which, if left uncollected, can pollute local land and water sources. In June 2009, Unilever Sri Lanka received the Green Jobs award under the climate change category from the Sri Lankan Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources for its use of renewable energy.

Biofuels & renewable energy use

Unilever has long used alternative and renewable fuels at factories across the world. At our Lipton tea estate in Kericho, Kenya, over 95% of the energy used is from renewable sources. Elsewhere in Africa, factories in Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania have begun using biofuels in their manufacturing processes.

In 2009, 15.8% of the total energy used by our sites worldwide came from renewable sources. Of this, 9.1% came from on-site initiatives such as burning fuel crops, wood from managed plantations and waste materials.

Unlike first-generation biofuels, second generation biofuels use non-edible plant residues and therefore don’t compete with crops for food supply. For more information on our position regarding first and second generation biofuels, see Renewable energy & biofuels.