Feasibility of bio-coal production from hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) technology using food waste in Malaysia

Ajit Singh*, Andrew Gill, David Lian Keong Lim, Agustina Kasmaruddin, Taghi Miri, Anita Chakrabarty, Hui Hui Chai, Anurita Selvarajoo, Festo Massawe, Yousif Abdalla Abakr, Kumbirai Ivyne Mateva, Wendy Pei Qin Ng, Olga Serifi, Claudia Mackenzie, Mardawani Mohamad, Hooi-Siang Kang, Pei Sean Goh, Jun Wei Lim, Yi Jing Chan*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The alarming rise of food waste all over the world due to population and economic growth must be tackled with better waste management and treatment methods. The current practice of landfilling has been scientifically proven to adversely impact environmental and societal health. A relatively new technology called hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) has the potential to solve this problem. It takes in high-moisture-content material, like food waste, and converts it into bio-coal with a heating value similar to normal coal. The present study explored the feasibility of HTC technology and bio-coal production in Malaysia. An in-depth study via desk research was conducted by implementing Porter’s five forces analysis to evaluate the feasibility of the bio-coal production project. A survey involving 215 respondents from different households that represent the average demography of Malaysia was also conducted to understand the behaviors and attitudes of different households towards food waste. The present study found that a typical Malaysian household disposes mostly of meal leftovers, with an average of 926 g of food waste per day. In addition, the 3 highest food categories that were disposed of were rice or noodles or pasta (13.0%), vegetables (12.2%) and curry and soup (10.1%). Meal leftovers such as curry and soup are high in moisture content, which is suitable for HTC. The survey on household waste provided adequate information to support the availability of a sufficient quantity of food waste in the country to sustain the raw material for the bio-coal project in Malaysia. Furthermore, a consumer survey involving seven industrial firms was conducted to determine the potential buyers of bio-coal. The responses from the industrial firms show that a bio-alternative for coal is important, and they are willing to transition to greener technologies. However, five out of seven firms stated that the main hurdle in adopting bio-coal is the high cost of production and incompatibility with existing industrial processes. Finally, interviews were conducted with key players in the industry to evaluate the adoptability of bio-coal into the wider market. The findings from the desk research and the primary research show that the outlook for bio-coal in the market is quite positive. In the long run, HTC is certainly profitable, but for immediate benefits, adequate government support and policy in favour of the use of HTC bio-coal in power plants are required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4534
Number of pages23
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: The financial support received from the following funders are gratefully acknowledged: The Newton-Ungku Omar Fund Grand Challenge (116412–664407), co-sponsored by Innovate UK and the Malaysian Industry Group for High Technology (MiGHT), Yayasan Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (YUTP) with the cost center of 015LC0-126 and Universitas Pertamina, Indonesia, via an international grant with the cost center of 015ME0-196.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • HTC
  • bio-coal
  • food waste
  • market feasibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Building and Construction
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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