News and Views

Green Materials Technology: Adoption In Malaysia

January 26, 2024

Editor’s Note: This article is based on a recent research paper referenced at the end of the article. To learn more and view a comprehensive list of sources, read the open-access research paper at the link here.

Green Technology (GT) represents a forward movement aimed at enhancing strategies and resources, encompassing energy production techniques to the creation of eco-friendly products. The adoption of GT serves as a means to alleviate the adverse impacts of human activities on the ecosystem.

GT's multidisciplinary nature provides a pathway to harmonise the requirements of economic development with our responsibility to safeguard the environment. The primary objective in the continuously expanding construction industry is to achieve sustainable economic growth.

Through its implementation, Malaysia has the potential to enhance economic expansion while concurrently preserving and reducing energy demand. GT enhances Malaysia's global competitiveness and its capacity for innovation. This article details the GT initiatives introduced in Malaysia, outlining their advantages and disadvantages.

Solar Tech

Malaysia stands out as a promising candidate for harnessing solar energy due to its strategic location near the equator, providing abundant sunlight. Research indicates that Malaysia receives an average monthly solar energy absorption of 500 MJ/m2, potentially generating up to 6500 MW of electricity. The country's consistently hot and sunny climate and minimal temperature variations create vast opportunities for solar energy production.

Solar energy technologies in Malaysia primarily fall into two categories: solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV). Solar thermal technology utilises solar heat for various heating applications, including solar water heaters (SWHs), solar space heaters, and coolers. On the other hand, PV technology employs modules composed of solar PV components to convert solar radiation into electric power. Despite the favorable climate and the economic feasibility of SWHs, many Malaysian households still rely on electric water heaters (EWHs) due to the perceived high upfront costs of SWHs and limited environmental awareness.

A comparative study on the annual cost of SWHs and EWHs revealed that, over time, SWHs are more cost-effective. The increased electricity consumption with growing families and potential rises in electricity rates make EWHs less economical. Furthermore, PV technology is expected to significantly reduce 16.75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions between 2011 and 2050, leading to MYR 2.1 billion in cost savings. This clean and renewable energy source offers tangible benefits to communities, such as noise-free operation during electricity generation.

However, the reliance on meteorological conditions remains a drawback of solar energy. Unlike fossil fuels, solar energy production is volatile and unpredictable, posing challenges and limitations to its consistent power generation.

Hydropower

Hydropower stands out as the predominant renewable energy source globally, boasting a generating capacity of 1308 GW as of 2019. Large hydropower plants, typically exceeding 10 GW and featuring reservoirs, offer multifaceted advantages, including energy production, job opportunities, effective water management, and electric network stabilization due to their versatile operating conditions. In contrast, small hydropower facilities are generally constructed for local development, decentralized energy generation, and investment opportunities in remote regions.

Malaysia, endowed with an abundance of water resources, boasts 200 rivers originating in its mountainous regions, which constitute 41% of the total land area. Both West Malaysia and East Malaysia receive substantial annual rainfall during the rainy season, with averages of 5080 mm and 3850 mm, respectively. This abundance positions hydropower as a significant and viable means of electricity production in the country.

Hydropower offers a 35% greater efficiency compared to conventional fossil fuel power generation, attributed to its sustainability, environmental friendliness, low carbon footprint, and affordability. The utilization of hydroelectric energy results in minimal greenhouse gas emissions, averaging only 9g of CO2 equivalent per kWh (CO2 eq/kWh) annually.

The hydropower generation process involves no harmful chemical additives, leading to minimal to no waste production and eliminating concerns about improper disposal of hazardous waste. Moreover, the construction of dams and hydropower infrastructure contributes to flood management by regulating and controlling water resources, simplifying the monitoring and maintenance of flow rates.

Biogas

Biogas emerges as a promising alternative renewable energy source that has the potential to alleviate Malaysia's heavy dependence on fossil fuels, constituting 88% of the overall energy mix and contributing to a substantial increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. The combustion of fossil fuels resulted in CO2 equivalent emissions of 54 Gt in 2010, projected to reach 70 Gt by 2050. Biogas, generated through anaerobic digestion of organic wastes, encompasses both solid (e.g., domestic waste, grass clippings) and liquid wastes (e.g., palm oil mill effluent, wastewater sludge, livestock excrement).

Anaerobic digestion, a microbial-driven process, produces odourless and colourless biogas, primarily composed of methane (CH4) (50–70%) and CO2 (30–50%). Notably, Malaysian biogas plants primarily utilise palm oil mill effluent (POME) and landfill waste [57]. The advantageous aspect of biogas generation lies in its ability to convert waste into a useful resource, reducing waste disposal costs while preserving environmental aesthetics. Although biogas combustion produces CO2, its relatively low carbon content distinguishes it from fossil fuels, allowing plants to remove it readily through photosynthesis.

Furthermore, biogas-derived CH4 can be converted into biomethane, suitable for transportation fuel or integration into the national natural gas infrastructure. The use of biomethane as a gasoline alternative is expected to enhance environmental air quality, exhibiting significantly lower emission factors than liquid fuels. Biomethane introduced to the national grid can reduce household reliance on solid fuels for energy consumption, positively impacting indoor air quality and human health.

Green Roof Systems

A green roof is a rooftop garden featuring aesthetic plantations or green areas, also known as a vegetated roofing framework with integrated irrigation to maintain the greenery. These roofs consist of prefabricated layers affixed to roofing elements, supporting growth media and vegetation.

There are two main types of green roofs: extensive and intensive systems, each with distinctive characteristics. Extensive green roofs are lightweight with a thin covering of vegetation, while intensive green roofs have a thicker soil structure capable of supporting small trees and bushes.

Plant communities on green roofs contribute to evapotranspiration, generating humidity and air cooling to mitigate the heat island phenomenon. If not addressed, this effect leads to increased energy costs for air conditioners and higher air pollution rates.

Moreover, green roof systems enhance internal thermal conformity by absorbing and reflecting solar radiation, reducing radiated heat. Overall, green roofs are considered effective in addressing environmental challenges associated with urbanisation and climate change.

Rain Water Harvesting System (RWHS)

The disparity between freshwater demand and supply has led to water scarcity issues. An alternative solution to address this challenge is the exploration and utilization of rainwater. Malaysia, with its substantial annual precipitation and strategic location, is well-suited for Rainwater Harvesting Systems (RWHS) implementation, offering a means to collect rainwater for various purposes such as cleaning, drinking, or cooking. RWHS involves gathering and storing rainwater for use, preventing it from simply flowing off into the environment and enhancing water availability.

Different types of RWHS exist, including rooftop, man-made belowground and aboveground catchment areas, and backyard mechanisms. The backyard system is particularly popular in Malaysia due to its cost-effectiveness and simpler construction without the need for an extensive pipe network.

The adoption of RWHS brings about both environmental and economic advantages. It mitigates the impact of rainwater on soil systems, reducing soil erosion and minimising flash floods in urban areas. Additionally, RWHS helps preserve river ecosystems by preventing soil pollutants from contaminating water sources and safeguarding aquatic organisms from toxins. Economically, RWHS contributes to cost savings by reducing reliance on public utilities for water consumption, especially for non-potable uses.

Key Takeaway

In conclusion, the adoption and utilisation of green material technologies, encompassing solar, water, biogas, green roof systems, and rainwater harvesting mechanisms, emerge as crucial strategies in Malaysia's commitment to mitigating and controlling carbon and methane emissions.

As the world grapples with the pressing challenges of climate change, the integration of these sustainable technologies represents a proactive step toward fostering environmental responsibility and resilience. The multifaceted benefits of these green materials extend beyond carbon reduction, encompassing energy efficiency, waste reduction, and the creation of more sustainable urban environments.

Malaysia's rich potential for solar energy, abundant water resources, and innovative approaches to biogas production can position the country at the forefront of green technology adoption in the region. The implementation of green roof systems and rainwater harvesting mechanisms not only addresses environmental concerns but also contributes to the development of eco-friendly infrastructure.

Through the collective embrace of these green material technologies, Malaysia stands poised to make significant strides in achieving a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

Reference

Lau, Y. Y. ., Talukdar, G. ., Widyasamratri, H. ., Wang, J. ., & El-shaammari, M. (2023). Utilization of Green Materials and Technology for Sustainable Construction in Malaysia. Tropical Environment, Biology, and Technology, 1(1), 47–66. https://doi.org/10.53623/tebt.v1i1.238

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