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Biomass and Bioenergy Vol. 1I, No. 5, pp.

387-395, 1996
Copyright 0 1996 published by Elsevier Science Ltd
Pergamon Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved
PII: 80961-9534(%)ooo34-7 0961-9534/96 $15.00 + 0.00

BIOMASS RESIDUES FROM PALM OIL MILLS IN


THAILAND: AN OVERVIEW ON QUANTITY AND
POTENTIAL USAGE

S. PRAsERTsAN*t and P. PRASERTSAN~


tDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai, 90110, Thailand
IDepartment of Industrial Biotechnology, Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai, 90110, Thailand

(Received 2 January 1996; revised 7 April 1996; accepted 1 May 1996)

Abstract-Palm oil production is one of the major industries in the south of Thailand. A study of the
quantity and potential usage of palm oil mill wastes was carried out. Sixteen palm oil mills in the region
generate 386,930 tons/yr 165,830 tons/yr and 110,550 tons/yr of empty fruit bunches, palm press fiber and
palm kernel shell, respectively. In addition, 1,202,260 tons/yr of waste water is being treated anaerobically.
Only the p&carp fiber is used for boiler feed. Empty fruit bunches and the shell are disposed of by the
land filling method, which is very costly. In some factories the empty fruit bunches are burnt in the
furnaces, which causes air pollution. The study suggests potential usages of the solid and liquid wastes.
Copyright 0 1996 published by Elsevier Science Ltd.

Keywords-Palm oil residues; waste utilization; waste management; biomass.

1. INTRODUCTION future will inevitably affect the waste disposal


practice of the mills. An increasing public
Palm oil is one of the major agroindustries in concern about the environment has forced some
the south of Thailand. Oil palm planting area factories to close down. This is because they
for the country totals 150,000 hectares, solely in failed to meet the effluent discharge standard
the south. The oil palm (Hueis guineensis) was and the bad odor (from the anaerobic pond)
introduced to Thailand in 1968, after it and dust (from burning the solid wastes such as
successfully replaced the natural rubber trees in empty fruit bunches and palm shells) offended
Malaysia. As the climatic conditions in the people living nearby. Only a fraction of solid
south are suitable for palm trees, the oil palm waste is used for steam and power generation.
plantation area has expanded ever since. The This paper reports a result of a field survey to
planting area and palm oil production in the determine the amount and types of palm oil mill
southern region are given in Table 1. At present, wastes and proposes means to properly treat or
there are 16 factories employing the standard oil utilize these wastes. Since 8590% of the palm
extracting process (normally called the wet oil is produced in the standard process factories,
process) and 24 factories the dry process. In the this paper deals with the standard process only.
standard milling process, which is the process
used in the factories of a milling capacity over
2. FSI’IMATION OF WASTES FROM PALM OIL
10 tons of raw material per hour, water is added MILLS
into a digester.
Raw material supplied to the mills consists of The amount of wastes from palm oil mills
fresh fruit bunches (FFB). In 1993 the yield of were presented in a study in Malaysia.3 The
FFB was 1.5 x lo6 tons’ and the crude palm oil palm varieties, growth conditions and planta-
production was 305,000 tons. It was estimated tion management in Thailand are different from
that about 1.18 x lo6 tons of organic waste was those in Malaysia and undoubtedly result in a
released from the palm oil mills. The stringent different quantity of solid wastes. Furthermore,
environmental measures implemented at present the milling process in Thailand consumes more
and those that will be introduced in the near water,4 hence has a higher waste water discharge
rate. In order to obtain precise data, the
*Author to whom correspondence should be addressed. estimation of wastes was carried out by

387
388 S. PRASERT~AN
and P. PRASERTSAN

questionnaires, observation, monitoring and mixed oil is not suitable for the downstream
interviewing. The FFB price varies according to processes.
its quality. The purchasing officers of the mills In large factories, steam and water are used as
take samples from the suppliers and analyse shown in Fig. 1 and hence, generate waste
them for the percentage of oil and shell (some water. The fresh fruit bunches are sterilized in
varieties have big nuts and thick shells). The a horizontal direct contact steam sterilizer at
data collected by the mills were obtained during 140°C for 50 min to inactivate the lipolytic
the survey and interviewing, and were used to enzymes and loosen the fruit still attached to the
double check the data obtained from the bunches. The sterilized bunches are fed into a
questionnaires. rotary drum thresher to separate the fruits from
There are 16 standard process mills and 24 the bunches. The empty fruit bunches (EFB) are
dry process mills in the south of Thailand. In conveyed to the dumping ground. The fruits are
total, 10 and five questionnaires were returned fed into a digester where water at 80°C is added.
from standard and dry process mills, respect- The homogenous oil mash from the digester is
ively. A survey of 11 standard mills and three pushed through a screw press, and later passes
dry process mills was carried out. through a vibrating screen, a hydrocyclone and
decanters (or separators) to remove fine solids
and water. Decanter effluent and decanter cake
3. WASTES FROM MILLING PROCESSES are the major wastes at this stage. Centrifugal
and vacuum driers are used to further purify the
The survey data of the dry process mills oil before pumping it to a storage tank. Fiber
showed no significant difference in the details of and nuts from the screw press are separated in
the process. However, for the standard wet a cyclone. The nuts are cracked in a centrifugal
process mills, they can be classified into two cracker. The kernels are packed and sold to
groups based on the oil separation technique- kernel oil mills. Shells are normally left unused.
those which use decanters (five mills) and There are various forms of solid and liquid
separators (five mills). It was found that there is wastes from the mills. These include empty fruit
one mill which has installed both the decanter bunches (EFB), palm press fiber (PPF), palm
and the separator in parallel, in the separation kernel cake (PKC), palm kernel shell (PKS),
line. Only the separator is operated in the sludge cake (SC) and palm oil mill effluent
normal season. The additional decanter is (POME). Only EFB, PPF, PKS and POME
operated to accommodate the high production appear in large quantities and are considered as
rate in the peak season. wastes. The others can be sold for animal feed
In the dry process, the fruits are dried by hot or fertilizer. The quantity of the wastes depends
air generated from the burning of firewood, on the quality of the raw material as illustrated
after which the oil from both the pericarp and in Fig. 2. Taking the average percentage of the
the kernel is extracted by a screw press. The FFB composition found from the survey (28%
residue from the process is the crushed fruit, EFB, 12% PPF and 8% PKS), the solid wastes
known as palm cake which can be sold for could be estimated as 386,930 tons of EFB,
animal feed. The palm cake contains 8-10% 165,830 tons of PPF and 110,550 tons of PKS
residual oil and about 9% moisture content. (Table 2). Waste water was found to be
Although this process leaves no waste, it is not 0.44-l. 18 tons/ton FFB.4 If the average figure of
used in the large scale production because the 0.87 tons/ton FFB is used for the calculation,

Table 1. Oil palm plantation and production of palm oil


Year Planting area Yielding area Yield of FFB Palm oil” production
(ha) (ha) ( x 10’tons) ( x lo3 tons)
1987 98,390 69,160 728 145.66
1988 109,190 82,840 885 117.02
1989 128,610 90,940 1098 219.63
1990 140,050 95,990 1191 238.35
1991 146,360 103,240 1315 263.20
1992 153,280 108,000 1352 270.40
1993 152,640 114,560 1526 305.20
Source: Office of Agriculture Economics.
‘Calculation based on 20% oil content in the fresh fruit bunches.
Biomass residues from palm oil mills in Thailand 389

FFB

Condensate

.* . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sterilizer - Steam (14O”C, 50 mim)

Thresher
1 .*~~.~-.+ EFB

Fruits
t
Digester - Water (80-9O’C)

Oil mash
I
Screw press

Effluent Liquid Solid

*d. . . . . .
Decanter . . . -* Cake Cyclone . . ..w PPF

w..... i
1 Oil
1 Nut

Purifier Nut cracker . . . . . .) PKS

i
Treatment
I
Kernel

Pack for kernel


ponds Oil mill
Fig. 1. Palm oil milling process. (- ) Process; (- - -) waste.

the annual discharge of waste water is 1,202,260 easily decomposed to produce another value-
tons. added product, namely organic fertilizer. This
type of fertilizer is much more suitable for the
4. CURRENT AND POTENTIAL USAGE OF
soil than the original EFB itself. Possible
WASTES AND RECOMMENDATION FOR deficiencies in phosphate can easily be overcome
TREATMENT through the addition of some waste water. The
readily available and digestible residue obtained
4.1. Empty fruit bunches (EFB) after mushroom cultivation with or without
EFB is the major component of all solid additional cornposting would allow easier
wastes. Steam from the sterilization process transportation and fertilization as compared to
results in a moisture content in the EFB as high the original EFB. This is particularly important
as 60%, which makes it unsuitable as fuel. It as the bulky nature of EFB makes direct
was reported that the EFB has 42% C, 0.8% N, application difficult and pollutes the air if
0.06% P, 2.4% K and 0.2% Mg.’ The survey incinerated in furnaces. In some plantations, the
found that the EFB have been used as raw EFB are left to decompose under the trees.
material for mushroom cultivation only re- Besides the palm trees, the EFB are also applied
cently. Without any treatment, the EFB are to fruit orchards using 20 FFB per tree. It helps
pressed to form rectangular blocks. Mushroom retain moisture and returns organic matter to
spores are inoculated into the EFB blocks which the soil. However, the EFB cannot be stacked in
were in turn covered by a black plastic sheet to more than two layers around the tree or they
retain moisture and limit sunlight. Mushrooms attract harmful insects.
are a good source of protein and are considered The bulky nature of the EFB causes a high
a valuable product, with the sale price ranging land-fill disposal cost. The mills, therefore, burn
from US!§ 2400-4000 per ton of Vovariella the EFB down to ash. Particulates and gas (SO,,
vohacea. A further advantage of mushroom CO*, CO and NO,) emitted from the furnaces
cultivation is the residue, which now can be sometimes cause air pollution to the nearby
390 S. PRASERTSAN
and P. PRASERTSAN

communities and results in public protests. 4.2. Palm press fiber (PPF)
Burning a ton of EFB produces 4 kg of ash. The oil retained in its cell wall makes the PPF
Because of the high mineral content of the ash a good combustible material. In factories which
(especially potassium) it can be sold at 1 Baht produce both steam and electrical power, all of
per kilogram (1 US$ = 25 Baht). It is interesting the PPF is used. However, only 30% is
to note that there is now at least one factory consumed if power is not produced. Therefore,
which processes the EFB into fibrous material. in some factories, about 70% of PPF is
The EFB fiber is coarser and stronger than that considered as waste. The PPF ash contains
obtained from the pericarp. By adding a binding 1.7-6.6% P, 17-25% K and 7% Ca.5 It could
agent, such as rubber latex, the EFB fiber can therefore be used as source of minerals for
be used for cushion filling material. One of the plants. Although PPF is similar to rice straw, it
most promising products manufactured from contains a higher percentage of fiber and lignin
the EFB is the medium density fiber (MDF) which cannot be digested easily by animals.
board which will be on the production line as However, its similarity to rice straw makes it a
soon as a factory is set up. The EFB has a great good substrate for mushroom cultivation.6 It is
potential in these applications. It should be interesting to note that a study by Okiy’ found
noted that products like coir fiber, fiber board, that PPF is suitable for the pulp and paper
cement board, roofing tile and card paper can be industry.
produced from the EFB or fiber. However, the
oil palm waste-based products received little 4.3. Palm kernel shell (PKS)
interest in Thailand since other agricultural PKS is the most difficult waste to decompose.
wastes in the country, such as rubber wood and The shell size is uniform and is not as bulky as
bagasse, are readily available in larger quantities the EFB. They are usually left unused in the
and the technical knowledge is already well- factory or disposed of by the land-fill method.
established at an industrial level scale. Further- In terms of energy, PKS is an energy intensive
more, the use of oil palm waste as raw material substance. Local industries that require process
requires oil separation (from the waste) process heat (or steam) generally have furnaces (or
and, consequently, generates waste water as boilers) designed for firewood or fuel oil.
experienced in one factory. However, substantial modification of the

FFB (100%)

EFB (20-30%) Fruit (70-74%)

[59%]

+=l
Moisture Dry EFB Pericarp Nut

(12-14%) (14-16%) (51-551) (18.9-19.2%)

[9.5%] [49.5%] [26.7%] [ 14.3%]

r-d
Oil Fiber Moisture
d-l
Shell Kernel Moisture

(25-28s) (12-13%) (13-14%) (6.8-7.4%)(8.5-8.4%)(3.3-3.4%)

[ll.S%] [ 13.9%] [1.3%] [10.6%] [l%l [2.7%]


Fig. 2. Composition of fresh fruit bunch. Figures in brackets are the percentage of FFB. () = high-quality
FFB and fl = low-quality FFB.
Table 2. Wastes from palm oil mills by provinces in 1993 a
z.
Province No. of mills Production capacity (tons FFB/yr) Waste water ( x 10’tons/yr) EFB ( x 10’tons/yr) PPF ( x 10’tons/yr) PKS ( x lo-’tons/yr) g
Chum-porn 3 250,400 217.85 70.11 30.05 20.03
Surat-thani 3 457,000 397.59 127.96 54.84 36.56 $
J
Krabi 5 395,000 343.65 110.60 47.40 31.60
212.28 68.32 29.28 19.52 z!
Trang 3 244,000
!z
Satoon 1 18,000 15.66 5.04 2.16 1.44
15.23 4.90 2.10 1.40 g
Songkla 1 17,500
Total 16 1,381,900 1 202.26 386.93 165.83 110.55 J
E
v)
Waste water was calculated based 0.87 tons/ton FFB, an average figure obtained from monitoring of four factories. 6’
EFB, PPF and PKS were calculated based on 28%, 12% and 8% of FFB, respectively. el
B
392 S. PRASERTSAN and P. ~ASERTSAN

furnaces is needed if the conventional fuel is to electricity and process heat, an energy conserva-
be replaced by PKS. Therefore, many factories tion measure to utilize the excess steam to
are still reluctant to use PKS as fuel unless they preheat the boiler feed water appears to be very
are economically forced to do so. cost effective. In addition, the boiler flue gas
There is a possibility that the PKS can be used which is at about 330°C should be used to
for activated carbon productions*9 or charcoal.3 preheat the combustion air in order to improve
PKS contains 20.3% of fixed carbon and is the thermal efficiency.”
physically similar to the coconut shell, which Many local cottage industries such as lime
has been used to produce the activated carbon making and brick firing are now faced with
successfully. It is anticipated that the stringent energy shortage problems. Usually, heat for the
environment control measures will increase the process is obtained from firewood. Natural
demand for activated carbon in the future. It is rubber is another important industry in the
possible that activated carbon can be applied for south of Thailand. Rubber trees cut down for
the decolorization of the unacceptably dark-col- replanting (after their economic life), which are
ored effluent of the palm oil mills. At present, the only source of firewood, are no longer a
there are 110,550 tons of PKS available cheap fuel source. At present, the rubber wood
annually, at no cost, at 16 mills. Some factories price is soaring because the number of
have shown an interest in incorporating rubber-wood-based furniture factories is con-
activated carbon production in the milling tinuously increasing. This inevitably has an
operation. adverse effect on the local industries which rely
Many mills have installed co-generation on the rubber wood for their energy supply. The
plants, i.e. generate both heat and electrical PKS can substitute the rubber wood if the
power. High-pressure steam passes through a furnaces are properly modified.
back-pressure steam turbine to generate electric-
ity sufficient for the mill consumption. The 4.4. Palm oil mill efluent (POME)
exhausted steam is used as heat source for the There are three major sources of waste water,
milling process. Only the (pericarp) fiber and namely sterilizer condensate (17%), decanter or
sometimes a small amount of shell is fed into the separator sludge (75%) and hydrocyclone water
boiler furnace. As private power production is (8%). Monitoring at four factories revealed that
being encouraged in Thailand, it is therefore the milling process produces waste water in the
recommended that the surplus shell should be range of 0.44-l. 18 m’/ton FFB with the average
used to generate electricity and be sold to the figure of 0.87 m3/ton FFB4 Waste water is
grid. The heating value of the shell is treated anaerobically in a series of ponds. Over
17.4 MJ/kg.” It is appropriate to assume that half of the land has to be spared for the waste
the overall thermal efficiency of the co-gener- water treatment ponds. There is a concern that
ation system is 25%. Therefore, the electrical this waste water might pollute underground
energy sold to the grid is 2 x lo9 MJ/yr, which water.
is equivalent to that generated from a 79 MW As a discharge standard of effluent from the
power plant operating for 300 days per year palm oil industry has not been set in Thailand
(which is the normal operating duration of the yet, the general standard for any effluent is
palm oil mills in Thailand). In practice, if the enforced. Since the final effluent is of brownish
PKS is used for electricity generation, 16 small colour, it cannot be discharged into the natural
co-generation systems have to be installed. waterways. There is, therefore, an urgent need
Extensive study of co-generation (heat and to investigate the decolorization process. This is
power) in the Thai palm oil industrylO indicated not limited to the use of activated carbon
that the heat-to-power ratio of the system was mentioned earlier, but includes the biological
about 12 during off-peak periods and 8 during method using microorganisms such as Phane-
peak periods. The analysis showed that the rochaete chrysosporium.‘* However, environ-
existing co-generation system was not properly mental guidelines for the palm oil industry are
designed, and that the low efficiency of the being developed and the effluent standard is
system was due to a large difference of enthalpy anticipated to be implemented by the year 2000.
between the steam required to generate electric- It was observed during the visit to the palm oil
ity and process steam and as a result, excessive mills that if algae is present in the final pond, the
steam blow-out occurred (39-47% of total effluent has a very light brown colour which is
steam input). To lessen the imbalance of considered acceptable for discharge into the
Biomass residues from palm oil mills in Thailand 393

river. Therefore, the role of algae on decoloriza- claiming to mitigate the bad smell are available,
tion and the use of algae as a by-product should and many mills apply the substance in the pond.
be investigated. This practice does not only result in an
The waste water characteristics have been additional treatment cost but is also found not
reported in many publications.2*4. ‘XI4 The high to work in the long term. Alternatively, the
organic load of waste water in terms of BOD treatment should be carried out in a reactor in
( w 50,000 mg/l) or COD ( N 80,000 mg/l) is which the biogas is obtained. Biogas could be
equivalent to the load generated by a population produced from mesophilic anaerobes at a rate of
of 3 million people.4 While the palm oil 0.57 m3/kg COD utilized per day, and contained
production in Malaysia is 20.6 times that of 6&69% methane gas.*’ The production of
Thailand’s, the waste water organic load in biogas was also conducted on a pilot scale using
terms of population equivalent is only 2.4 a thermophilic contact process at a temperature
times.13 These figures clearly reflect the lack of of 45”-60°C with an organic loading of 3.0 kg
control and inefficient treatment in Thailand. BOD/m3/day. The highest yield of biogas was
Furthermore, the specific waste water from the seen at 65°C and contained less than 10 ppm of
palm oil mills in Thailand, which is 0.87 m3/ton hydrogen gas. The treatment efficiency was
FFB, is substantially higher than the figure 96%.23 With the average output of 40 kg
0.6 m3/ton FFB quoted in Malaysia.” It was (40,000 ppm) organic matter, the potential
reported that the minimum discharge achievable production of biogas is 12 m3/m3 effluent.24 For
can be as low as 0.3 m3/ton FFB.16 a mill with handling capacity of 20 tons FFB/h
The use as fertilizer and water supply for the and 10 h working time per day, the daily
palm trees are the most common methods for discharge of the effluent is 174 m3/day (calcu-
the waste water utilization. As most of the lated from 0.87 m3/ton FFB). Assuming a very
carbon source (with a proper nutrient ratio in conservative long fermentation time of 20 days,
terms of BOD:N:P = 1OO:l.1:0.2) is used by the the digester volume is 3480 m3. It can be
microorganisms when the waste water is treated anticipated that after 20 days of treatment the
anaerobically, nutrients such as N, P and K are BOD should be reduced by 90%, the COD by
left over for the plants. Substances yielded from 75% and the total solids by 70%. Biogas
the drying of the waste water can be used as an produced from the digester is calculated as
animal feed supplement”.” or fertilizer.19 How- 2088 m3/day or, in terms of heat, 48 GJ/day.
ever, the energy cost of drying must be very low
or obtained freely such as solar energy. 5. DISCUSSION
Commercially available single cell protein for
animal feed (Prolima and Centriplus) can be The palm oil industry contributes an appreci-
cultivated from the POME.’ Biotechnological able level of economic growth to the southern
products such as cellulase, xylanase, betaglu- region of Thailand. Thousands of people are
cosidase and pectinase enzymes can be obtained engaged in the upstream and downstream
from cultivating Aspergih niger ATCC 6275.*’ processes of the milling. Although the mills
Furthermore, the enzymes can then be used for generate a great amount of waste, the waste is
the saccharification of palm cake and palm fiber a natural product, and non-toxic, because no
to produce sugars (glucose, xylose, arabinose, chemicals are used in the process. The waste, if
mannose, etc.). The enzymes can also be applied properly managed, can be returned to the soil as
to enhance the oil recovery from press cake fertilizer without any harmful effect. This means
fiber*’and a laboratory experiment revealed that that the waste should not be kept in a place
it can separate oil and suspended solids from the where the concentration is too high for the
POME. environment. However, dumping the waste by
Anaerobic digestion is an effective method for scattering evenly over 150,000 ha of plantation
treatment of wastewater with high organic is economically not feasible.
content. During the treatment process, microor- It is worth mentioning the potential of
ganisms hydrolyse fat, oil and carbohydrate (in incorporating integrated farming in the ponding
the form of sugar, starch, pectin and pentosan) treatment system of a palm oil mill. Because of
to volatile fatty acids (acetic, butyric, etc.) and the nutrient-rich effluent, some vegetables could
isobutyl alcohol. These compounds have offen- be grown in the treatment ponds. Bamboo rafts
sive smells and are regarded as air pollution. It can be used as growing platforms. In the final
was found recently that commercial products pond where algae is present, phytoplankton-
394 S. F~ASERTSAN and P. F'RASERTSAN

feeding fish such as tilapia can be cultured. A is reused by the palm trees to complete the
frozen seafood factory in Hat Yai, Songkla carbon cycle.
province, discovered that an unpleasant odor
developed in fish cultured in the final treatment 6. CONCLUSION
pond, unless the fish were kept in clean, fresh
water for few weeks. The quantity of palm oil mill wastes is
If the effluent is dried out, many associated presented and methods of waste disposal and
problems vanish. The water in the effluent may utilization are proposed. Waste disposal is
be vaporized by the heat obtained from burning usually a costly practice which imposes a
the solid wastes. One ton of FFB generates so-called “negative value” on the waste. Waste
870 kg of waste water at 66°C. Taking the total utilization requires investment and technology
solid content of 60 kg (derived from Table 2) to produce “positive value” products from the
the amount of water to be evaporated is 8 10 kg, waste and at the same time mitigates the
which requires about 1900 MJ. One ton of FFB environmental problems caused by the waste.
gives 80 kg of PKS, 120 kg of PPF and 280 kg However, the feasibility of waste utilization
of EFB. It was reported that the heating values depends on the cost-benefit analysis, the
of the dried shell, fiber and EFB are 17.4, 4.6 competitiveness of the process and products,
and 9.6 MJ/kg, respectively.2s If the heat etc.
conversion efficiency is 80%, about 2200 MJ is
obtainable from the solid wastes. It is possible, Acknowledgements-This work was financially supported
by the National Center for Genetic Engineering and
therefore, to eliminate both liquid and solid Biotechnology, NSTDA (Thailand) to whom the authors
wastes simultaneously by this method. How- are grateful.
ever, the factory has to install a heat generator
with a capacity of 470 kW for every ton FFB/h
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