Bord na Móna is to stop importing palm kernel shells from plantations in some of the world's most biodiverse countries following concerns that it is helping to fuel the destruction of forests.
Since 2010, more than 150,000 tonnes of palm kernel shells (PKS) have been bought by the semi-state company to burn along with peat at the Edenderry, Co Offaly, power station.
An investigation by The Irish Times shows that the semi-State body has imported the shells without knowledge of whether they have been sustainably sourced, despite pledges that protecting the environment is part of the company's "core DNA".
The palm oil industry is linked to various environmental and social abuses, such as deforestation, pollution, poor working conditions and the destruction of peatlands in Indonesia, which has supplied nearly two-thirds of Bord na Móna’s PKS supplies.
Once oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree, the kernel shells are dried and crushed and sold internationally as biomass, where they are included in the “green energy” figures of energy companies.
In September, in a reply to a request by The Irish Times, Bord na Móna said as PKS is classified as a byproduct of the palm oil industry, it is not required to buy sustainable kernel shells.
“PKS are a byproduct of this industry and, as such, no certification is required and in most cases is unavailable,” the company states. “In the palm oil industry, it is the production of palm oil itself that may be certified and not the residue – ie PKS.”
However, the company has now said it will “cease to source and use” the product from this year, once “alternative, domestic and imported, sustainable supply chains” are in place.
“The review of the future supply of biomass is being guided by the company’s sustainable business criteria with the objective of securing positive outcomes for people, the planet and the company’s profit,” the statement continues.
However, the semi-State, which is now Ireland’s biggest supplier and user of biomass products, acknowledges that developing a reliable and cost-effective biomass supply for the Edenderry plant will be a “significant challenge”.
More than a third of the fuel used at the Co Offaly plant is biomass of one form or other. This meets a Government-set 30 per cent co-firing target, laid down as part of Ireland’s efforts to generate 40 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020.