Turning the herbal medicine jamu into green energy and savings

A jamu factory, the largest in Indonesia’s herbal medicine industry, turns its waste into biomass pellets used for fuel, saving $1.5 million a year.

Industrial uses of energy-rich vegetation, or biomass, as fuel can be key to the future of renewable energy. Biomass in the form of waste in particular is ideal as it is available at no cost. In Indonesia a forward-thinking company, Sido Muncul, is using the waste from the production of the popular herbal medicine jamu to make fuel pellets.


agricultural waste-biomass
An agricultural site © Novrida Masli

What is Jamu

Jamu is a herbal drink made of plants and spices such as ginger, turmeric, cloves, fennel, celery, and tamarind. Indonesians drink it to maintain health and fitness, and to prevent and in some case cure disease. It has been part of the culture for generations. Today, jamu is produced on industrial scale in the form of tablets, capsules, sachets or bottled drinks. The spices are ground and mixed then their flavour and properties are extracted using boiling water. This process leaves behind solid waste in the form of dregs. Every 3 kg of raw ingredients will produce 1 kg of waste.


jamu powdered biomass
Powdered biomass ready to be pressed into pellets © Arief Koes Hernawan/Gatra

Biomass pellets

Historically, before the extensive use of fossil fuels, biomass in the form of wood fuel provided most of humanity’s heating. Feeding biomass directly into fire is called a direct combustion system. Today however there is a more efficient way of using biomass as fuel: by changing it into pellets first. This is called a pellet-fire system. Because they are dry, condensed and uniform, the combustion of pellets releases a much higher amount of calories.


The efficiency of pellets inspired Irwan Hidayat, CEO of Sido Muncul to change his company’s relationship to waste. The biggest jamu maker in Indonesia, Sido Muncul produces 35 thousand tonnes of solid waste every day. The mounting piles of waste call for serious efforts for it to be properly managed, and Hidayat’s intuition was to use these leftovers as the very fuel for jamu production.


Jamu waste pellets
Pellets made of jamu waste © Arief Koes Hernawan/Gatra

Making pellets out of jamu

To make pellets out of jamu the waste is dried and powdered, then pressed into 2 cm long cylinders. These are then fed into moving-chains steam boilers in the production of both jamu and the pellets themselves.


Cutting down Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) use by about 40%, pellets lead to savings of up to 20 billion Rupiah ($1.5 million) annually. The company aims to replace all CNG use with jamu waste pellets because they have proven to be an effective source of fuel. Both the gas and pellets release about the same amount of energy at the same rate, but the latter are always available at no cost. And most importantly, it means jamu production plants can all become zero-waste facilities.


Featured image: the ingredients to make jamu © Novrida Masli

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