Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil producer and trader, started out a mere 20 years ago as a simple brokering office in Singapore. Since then, it has grown into a major industrial force-Asia’s largest agricultural firm. New Diesel Magazine spoke with an official from Wilmar, on the condition of anonymity, about the implementation of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive and the efforts to ensure that palm-based diesel qualifies as a sustainable biofuel under the United States’ Renewable Fuels Standard.
New Diesel Magazine: The EU is aiming to ensure that its biofuels program is sustainable does not contribute to the destruction of tropical rain forests by creating a market for palm-based biodiesel, which has been accused of contributing to this problem?
Wilmar: I’m sure that there are couple of bad actors (in the palm oil industry), but the way that Greenpeace and the other non-governmental organizations (NGO)s portray [this industry] is sickening, it’s outrageous. Palm oil is the only vegetable oil industry in the world that even has a sustainability certification process in place.
New Diesel Magazine: Some say that the RED isn’t anything more than ‘green protectionism’ meant to compromise the competitiveness of international fuel exporters?
Wilmar: It’s the same in the United States. RFS-2 certainly favors the primary feedstock of the United States’ domestic producers-soy oil.
New Diesel Magazine: What would be the ultimate consequence for Wilmar if palm-based diesel fuel is not economical to export to the U.S. or Europe?
Wilmar: Besides what happens with biofuels, Wilmar is still one of the largest producers of oleochemicals in the world and many of the other market segments that we are associated with just do not have the regulations that we have to comply with.
New Diesel Magazine: What’s your opinion of indirect land use change, the subject that has caused so much controversy first in the U.S. and now in Europe?
Wilmar: Everyone is coming up with their own modeling systems for indirect land use change and even combinations of models, which then uses different variables and combinations of variables. It’s basically a big sausage machine-everything’s getting thrown in.
New Diesel Magazine: Palm oil does not currently qualify as a sustainable biofuel under the United States’ renewable fuel standard?
Wilmar: We’ve been lobbying hard to change this, and working very closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that PME is granted the status as an advanced biofuel under RFS-2. I feel fairly positive that the EPA will eventually accept palm as an advanced biofuel, but in Europe it’s much more complicated.
New Diesel Magazine: Wilmar rarely publishes photos of its facilities and seems to release only information that they are required under law to do. This characteristic may give its opponents, like the Netherlands’ Wetlands International and Greenpeace, an advantage in the battle for public opinion.
Wilmar: Opposing NGOs and their critiques of the palm industry is just a big mess of communication and miscommunication, but the palm industry could do a better job at public relations.