Waste to Energy in Palm Oil Industry

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*image source: http://www.jopeh.com.my/

The Economic Benefit of Palm Oil Industry

Palm oil is a nutritious fatty acid containing vegetable oil that is suitable for many different applications. The derivative products include cooking oil, margarine, soap, surfactant pharmaceutical and even biodiesel. Due to the wide application and favorable production rate, Palm oil become the most extensively traded edible oil in the global fats and oil market by the mid-2000s. Palm Oil industry also becomes one of the prominent global agricultural industries.

The world consumption of palm oil has massively improved during the past decade. The production of crude palm oil reached 62.34 million tons in 2014 and it is expected to increase to 78 million tons by 2020. Furthermore, the demand of world palm oil is projected to remain increase following the growth of population, food demand, and chemical industries.

Palm oil production is centered upon tropical regions, especially Southeast Asia. This is related to the suitability of palm tree growing conditions with Southeast Asian climate, viz. yearly rainfall of 1600–2000 mm and daily sunlight of 5–7 h. Owing to this fact, Palm Oil has been a specific trading commodity for two Southeast Asian countries, namely Indonesia (30.5 million tons) and Malaysia (19.9 million tons). Palm Oil supplied by these two countries is contributed for more than 85% of global Palm Oil demand in 2014.

For Indonesia, Palm oil has been a very important commodity. It is the second-top contributor to their total exports after coal. It contributed around US$19.22 billion, or 10.53 percent, to the country’s total exports of $182.57 billion in 2013. It is estimated that over than 6 million workers are employed in the palm oil industry in Indonesia.

Waste Problem from Palm Oil Industry and Its Potential Added Value

Alongside with its enormous economic value for the countries, palm oil industry is also poses some potential environmental problems. One of the major problems is related to the vast amount of waste generated during the processing of fresh fruit bunch to palm oil. Thus, in consort with the increase of palm oil production, many palm oil farmers and producers are facing the problems associated with the increasing waste streams such as insufficient dumping spaces, bad odor and hazardous methane gas from the decomposition processes. Palm oil industry is an undeniable birthplace of pollution in the palm oil processing country.

There are two main source of waste stream in Palm Oil production. First, Palm Oil production requires high amount of steam in the extraction process that would be subsequently discharged as wastewater or palm oil mill effluent (POME). Second, purified palm oil represents only approximately 20wt.% of the harvested material. Consequently, Palm Oil mill plant generates large amount of solids wastes such as empty fruit bunch (EFB) (23%), fiber (12%) and shell (5%) for every ton of fresh fruit bunches processed in the mills. Beside of their disposal problem, some energy potentials are stored in the wastes associated with their organic content. Therefore, the appropriate treatment and management of Palm Oil production waste streams is not only creating an environmentally-sound disposal method but also generating some economical added values.

POME is wastewater generated from the sequence of sterilization, clarification and hydro-cyclone in palm oil extraction process. It is produced voluminously at the quantity of around 0.87 m3 or 3.7 ton for every ton of palm oil product. Fig. 1 shows the waste POME collection in treatment pond.  POME is a thick brownish liquid with unfriendly odor.

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Fig.1 Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME)

Oil palm mill plant also generates large amount of solids wastes in the form of empty fruit bunch (EFB). Fig. 2 shows the pile of EFB waste in Palm Oil mill plant. Approximately 1.1 ton of EFB is generated for every ton of crude palm oil (CPO) produced [5]. EFB is a lignocellulose residual which remains from the extraction of oil palm fruits at the mills.

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Fig.2 Empty Fruit Bunch (EFB)

With its considerable dry base Calorific Value (HHV) and its high generation rate, the large potential stored in the utilization of EFB for energy. For the case of Indonesia, 138.3 million GJ/year energy potential is calculated to be contained in EFB waste in 2012. However, with the as-received moisture content of around 60%, EFB is low in commercial value.

Prospectus Research Target and Benefit

Based on the above mentioned conditions, it can be concluded that an innovative treatment method is required not only to manage the abundant waste streams of POME and EFB in an environmental friendly manner but also to optimize their energy potentials. By applying waste-to-energy conversion technology, the discharged waste stream from Palm Oil production will be greatly reduced and energy efficiencies of the processing plant will be significantly enhanced. These features will make Palm Oil industry more environmental friendly and economically efficient. Furthermore, a single treatment step would simplify the technical and economical requirements for the handling of both residues.

*article from Mr. Bayu Prabowo, STEM Faculty Member