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Combustion Characteristics of Palm Kernel Shells Using an

Inclined Grate Combustor
W.M.W.A. Najmi, A.N. Rosli, and M.S S.Izat.
Thermo-Fluids Department
Faculty of Mechanical Engineering
University of Technology MARA
40450 UiTM Shah Alam

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Keywords : palm kernel shell, inclined grate, combustion, Palm kernel shells are carbonaceous solids, produced from
energy, emission. the processing of palm oil fruit. Carbonaceous solids
contain high volume percentage of carbon element and
Abstract may be converted as a heat energy source by thermal
reaction of the carbon content. Palm mills have been using
Numerous research works has been carried out to study the the palm kernel shells as the main fuel for their in-house
combustion characteristics of solid wastes from the boilers to generate electricity and process heat. It is
agricultural sector, which are categorized as renewable estimated that in 2003, Malaysian palm oil mills generates
energy sources. However, every result is unique due to the nearly 300 MW of electricity from its palm oil processing
differences in the process as well as hardware. This paper by-products, mainly from shells and fibers. [1] The
publishes results based on the combustion experiments of abundance in volume as well as acceptable energy content
palm kernel shells using an under-fire inclined grate leads to the conclusion that palm kernel shells would be
combustor developed locally. The analysis is based on one of the major renewable fuels for the future.
theoretical and experimental energy outputs, emission
analysis and combustion behavior. In general, palm This paper is based on an ongoing project at the Faculty of
kernels consists of 57.01% C, 11.11% H2, 31.8% O2, and Mechanical Engineering, University of Technology
0.5% N2 with a calorific value of 16.9 MJ/kg. The MARA (UiTM) Malaysia, on the development of an
combustion chamber design limits the actual energy inclined grate combustion chamber for solid fuels. The
conversion (combustion chamber thermal efficiency) at a results presented in this paper are the preliminary analysis
range of 25% to 32%, where the maximum flue gas energy of the combustion chamber performance based on the
was determined at 81.7 MJ/kmol, or about 5 MJ/kg. Poor combustion of palm kernel shells. The main objective is to
air-fuel mixing and fuel distribution are factors that was identify palm shell combustion behavior at near
identified to be further improved to enhance the stoichiometric conditions, as well as analyzing the
combustion performance. efficiency of the developed combustor for further
improvement. Though many researchers have produced
reports on palm shells combustion behavior, almost all
1 Introduction results are unique in its way due to the difference in the
process design and the type of combustor used. The results
Combustion involves the rapid conversion of chemical are hopefully useful in the general move towards utilizing
energy in a fuel to sensible heat energy. In Malaysia, fossil biomass wastes as an alternative fuel in Malaysia.
fuels is still the number one fuel, but the consciousness of
the biomass fuel as an alternative energy source is
increasing due to its renewable capability. Biomass has 2 Combustion and Fuel
long been known to be the chief source of energy before
the discovery of fossil fuels. The solar energy stored in 2.1 Biomass Fuel
chemical form in plants is among the most precious and
versatile resources on earth. Biomass is defined as any Biomass is considered to be one of the key renewable
organic matter, particularly cellulosic or lingo-cellulosic resources of the future at both small and large-scale levels.
matter which is available on a renewable or recurring It already supplies 14 % of the world’s primary energy
basis. consumption. On average, biomass produces 38 % of the

International Conference on Energy and Environment 2006 (ICEE 2006) 1


primary energy in developing countries. In many industries

where agricultural products are being processed, it has been Element Source [3] Source [4]
common practice to use organic waste or biomass residues Carbon 57.01% 47.62%
as fuel for production of the energy needed for the Oxygen 31.8% 6.27%
processing. This practice is widely used in Malaysia Hydrogen 11.11% 43.38%
especially in the raw agricultural processing factory, such Nitrogen 0.5% 0.7%
as palm oil processing factory, sugar processing factory Calorific value 16.9 MJ/kg 20.7 MJ/kg
and rice processing factory. Sugar mills producing sugar
from sugarcane are using bagasse as fuel for production of Table 1: Ultimate analysis of Palm Shell
the thermal energy used in the distillation process, while
the fibers or the shells from the palm fruits are used as fuel The difference in properties is due to the location of
for production of the thermal energy needed for the sample collected. Izat based his analysis on samples
sterilization of the fresh fruit bunches. In rice mills it has collected from Golden Hope Plantations, Klang, Selangor,
been common to use the husk as fuel for drying of the Malaysia, while Ramlan’s samples comes from a FELDA
paddy. plantation in Kulai, Johor, Malaysia. Another calorific
value as reported by Nasrin [1] is 20 MJ/kg. The analysis
Typical properties of biomass fuels are low heating values, of this paper would refer to fuel properties as given by
high moisture content, low ash content (exceptions are rice Izat.
husk and rice straw), low density (bulky), and low ash
melting temperatures. There are a number of benefits or Stoichiometric or theoretical air is defined as the minimum
advantages when using biomass residues as fuel instead of amount of air needed for the complete combustion of fuel.
using fossil fuels. These includes : A combustion process with less than the theoretical air is
i) Biomass fuels do not create any rise in the amount bound to be incomplete. Stoichiometric combustion
of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. process is defined as the ideal combustion process during
ii) When biomass residues are used as fuel the which a fuel is burned completely.
residues will not ferment and produce methane,
which is 21 times more harmful as greenhouse gas To ensure complete combustion, it is essential to provide a
than CO2. certain amount of excess air. The quality of a combustion
iii) Biomass contains almost no sulfur, thus the system is determined by a maximum percentage of
combustion of the biomass creates hardly any complete combustion, along with a minimum of excess air
sulfur acid. commonly 5% to 20% above the necessary level for ideal
iv) The ash is normally alkaline (opposite to acid). If combustion. Burning with 50% excess air (equivalent to a
biomass ash is spread to the environment it will 7.5% O2 combustion analysis reading) is typical for many
counteract acidification. gas-fired appliances.
v) Using biomass residues as fuel often solves a waste
disposal problem and creates instead an income for
the waste producer or user.
Water (H2O)

There are typically 3 methods in extracting energy from Fuel Plus

biomass. First is by using direct combustion process.
Plus Nitrogen (N2)
Second is by using thermo-chemical processing to upgrade Burn to
the bio-fuel such as pyrolysis, gasification and Combustion Air
liquefaction. Third is by using biological processing
Plus Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
including anaerobic digestion and fermentation which lead
to a useful gaseous or liquid fuel. Excess Air Plus
Excess Air
2.2 Combustion properties of palm kernel shells

It is estimated that Malaysian palm oil mills processes Figure 1: Introducing excess air to a
about 60 million tones of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) yearly combustion process.
and generate about 7.3 million tones mesocarp fibre, 3.2
million tones of shell and 12 million tones empty fruit Using chemical reaction analysis, the stoichiometric
bunches (EFB) as biomass residues [2]. Ultimate analyses combustion equation for palm shell is
of two samples of palm shells as reported by Izat [3] and
Ramlan [4] is shown in Table 1. 0.5701 C +0.318 O2 + 0.1111 H2 + 0.005 N2 +
0.46665 (O2 + 3.76 N2)  0.5701 CO2 +
0.1111 H2O + 1.7571 N2 (1)

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In general, the combustion chamber was designed to

handle about 20 kg/hour of palm shell. It is 1.6 meter high
By theory, the number of mole in the product must equal and approximately 0.2 m3 of combustion volume. The
to these values if the palm shell is burned completely. outer walls are constructed using firebricks that can
withstand temperatures up to 15000C. An underfire gas
The Air-Fuel ratio (AF ratio) is defined as the ratio of burner is used for ignition. The grate is inclined at a 30o
mass of air to the mass of fuel for a combustion process. angle from its horizontal axis. Theoretically, inclined
The stiochiometric AF ratio for the palm shell was grates is suitable for concentrated burning of high density
determined to be 5.271 kg air per kg fuel. The blower used solid fuels with a better ignition period and air-fuel
in this project can supply up to 0.7 m3 per minute air flow distribution. Air inlet ports are located directly beneath the
rate or 0.8177 kg of air per minute. By theory, 5.271 kg of grate and above the grate. Temperature measurement
air is needed for 1 kg of fuel to achieve complete points are positioned at the fuel core, 30 cm above the fuel
combustion. Therefore the time required for 1 kg of palm core, and at the flue gas exit port. The temperature is
shell to complete the combustion process under measured using K-type thermocouple probes. The gas
stoichiometric conditions is approximately 6.5 minutes. analyzer probe is positioned at the chimney.

Achieving optimum combustion energy release is the main

objective as it can determine how well the palm shell can Exhaust
be burned with the specified system and process chimney
conditions. From the first-law energy balance for a
reacting system, the rate of combustion energy under Secondary air
stoichiometric can be expressed as: Fuel loading

 
 
N h  h h  area

 N h      

  

  N
Fuel grate
Q  (N h f ) hf hh
out O f N  H 2O H 2O  o

 N h  h  h  
Primary air
  Ash removal
 inlet
 N2 hatch

Burner port

Inserting values by assuming all the reactants enters at
Figure 2 : Schematic of combustion chamber
standard reference state (25oC and 1 atm) and h f is equal
to zero for O2, C, N2 and H2, yields : 3.2 Experimental setup and procedures

  
 0.5701  393520  hCO  9364
 Palm shells should be dried beforehand to remove the
moisture content. Excessive moisture level would greatly

Qout  (0.318)(249190)  (0.005)(472650)  0.1111  241820  hH

2O  9904  decrease combustion rates and lower the energy recovery.

 

 N

 1.7571 0  h  8669
 
 The experiment is done by igniting about 5 kg of palm
shell assisted with a little kerosene to form the core of the
Simplifying the equation : combustion. The burner is switched off as the core
achieves sustainable combustion. Periodically, 5 kg of
Q  354488.7  (0.5701hCO  0.1111h H O  1.7571h N ) (2) palm shells are fed through the load(i2n)g door, up to a
out 2 2 2
maximum of 15 kg. Air flow rates are adjusted
Equation (2) is the theoretical equation to determine the accordingly as the fuel amount increases to maintain the
value of heat released as a result of the combustion process excess air supply in the range of 10% to 50%. Readings of
of the palm shell. The heat output can be determined if the core temperature, gas temperature, exhaust temperature
value of the product temperature at the exhaust is known. and gas emissions are taken at 3 to 5 minutes interval. The
However, the equation is an approximation as it neglects experiment was limited to approximately 150 minutes, and
the effects of products of incomplete combustion in the the air flow is turned off at that point and the fuel is
basis that its energy content is too small compared to the allowed to burn and cool naturally.
main constituents.
4 Results and discussion
3 Research Work
Temperature, air flow rates, and emission data was
3.1 Combustion chamber specifications recorded for an experiment time of about 150 minutes. The
results are presented in graphical forms in figures 3 to 6.

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Temperature Profile against Time Energy Release against Time

600.0 100000.000

500.0 95000.000
Temperature Distribution, Degree C

Energy Distribution (KJ/kmol)

400.0 90000.000

300.0 85000.000




Time (minute)
Time, Minute
Core Point Gas Point Exhaust Point

Figure 3 : Temperature profile at core, gas and exhaust Figure 6 : Energy release profile

The maximum temperature recorded was 530oC at the core

(at approximately 12 kg of palm shell capacity), 320 oC
above the grate (gas temperature), and 220 oC at the
Gases Emission against Time

exhaust port. The average difference between the gas
temperature and the exhaust temperature was
approximately 30oC. This shows that high gas cooling
2.50 rates occurred as the combustion gases flows from the
Gaseous Emissions (%)

main combustion area to the exhaust, which is only at
2.00 CO2(%)
about 50 cm distance vertically. Two main factors for this
NO(%) condition would be due to inadequate wall insulation
resistance to heat transfer to the surrounding, and air draft
from excess combustion air absorbing the heat as it rises
0.50 towards the exit. The average temperature drop (core)
during each fuel reloading of about 5 kg each is 135 oC,
caused by the imbalance in air–fuel ratio during that
Time (Minute) period.

Figure 4 : Emission profile CO2 concentration in the flue gas is within the range of
0.7% to 3.3%. It is also apparent that CO emission was
detected for the entire combustion process. The maximum
HC and NO emission against Time level of CO is at 0.46% and the minimum is at 0.16%. The
250 high level of CO2 was accompanied by a low level of CO
at the final stage of the combustion, where the core
temperature is at the maximum. Therefore it can be said
Hydrocarbon & NO Emission (ppm)

that high percentage of CO2 can be achieved at the

maximum temperature, or when the combustion process is
most efficient. However, the combustion process is
partially incomplete as there is always CO concentration

0 The level of HC in ppm is high at the beginning but

Time (minute) gradually decreases when the palm shells began to burn
HC(ppm) NO (ppm)
more efficiently. In addition, the level of the NO x gas
(reported as NO) during the combustion process is lower
Figure 5 :HC and NO emission compared to HC. The maximum and minimum value of
HC is at 216 ppm and 20 ppm respectively, while the

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maximum and minimum value of NOx gas produced

during the combustion process is at 62 ppm and 3 ppm
respectively. The low NOx concentration is a good result,
mostly achieved due to low combustion temperatures and
low excess air. Halim [5] reported NOx emissions from
palm shell combustion at 20 – 120 ppm with 300% to
800% excess air, while Najmi [6] reports NOx levels below
100 ppm at combustion temperatures between 300oC to
700oC using a staged combustion system. The results from
the experiment conforms with the standard of 100 ppm
emission set by Best Availabe Control Technology
(BACT). [7]

The profile of the energy release during the combustion

process was calculated using equation (2) based on the
temperatures achieved in the actual experiment. The
maximum energy released (dry-basis) at the core is at 94 Figure 8 : Char combustion stage
MJ/kmol or about 5.4 MJ/kg, measured at the core
temperature of 540 K, and the available heat energy in the
Observing the combustion process, the flame is luminous
flue gas at this point is 81.7 MJ/kmol, or 4.7 MJ/kg.
and of medium size, propagating from the bottom to the
upper section of the fuel grate, from centerline of the fuel
The relatively low energy conversion (thermal efficiency)
agglomeration, the flame disperse to the end of the fuel
of about 25% to 32% was contributed to some poor
distribution. In addition it can be seen that flame color is
chamber design configurations, mainly on the air
yellow and this indicates incomplete combustion, most
distribution efficiency, the fuel distribution on the grate,
probably caused by insufficient air supply or mixing
and the low AF ratio used (10% to 50% excess air). The
during the combustion process.
primary air port is located directly beneath the fuel core,
and due to the high density of palm shells, the air jet flow
Ignition Flame
is limited to a small part of the bulk fuel. It was observed
that palm shells farther from the core failed to burn Palm shell Fuel grate
completely, mostly due to lack of air interaction or agglomeration
availability. Post-experiment checks revealed a large
amount of half-burned palm shells (char) on the grate.
Flame propagation
Energy conversion is expected to increase if the air-fuel
interaction factors are overcome.

Figure 9 : Flame propagation from the fuel centerline

Figure 7 : Drying and devolatilization stage

Figure 10 : (from left) Raw palm shell, char and ash.

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4 Conclusion

Palm kernel shells are attractive renewable energy

resource that has been utilized in agricultural industries as
a secondary energy source. Due to certain physical
characteristics, palm shells are a relatively hard-to-burn
biomass fuel, and the combustion chamber design as well
as the combustion process should be optimized to enhance
combustion efficiency. The inclined grate fixed bed
combustion chamber used to burn the palm shells exhibits
low capabilities with a conversion rate of 25% to 32%
from its calorific value. Main design faults were identified
for the combustion air distribution system as well as fuel
feed and distribution. Overall, the results obtained points
to a number of important modifications to optimize the
energy conversion of palm kernel shells.


[1] A.B. Nasrin,, “ A systematic approach of

assessing palm oil mills as RE power plant sites – a case
study”, Proceedings of the Advances in Malaysian Energy
Research, pp. 25 – 32, 2004.

[2] A. M. Fadzil and U.A.M.Hakimi, “Utilization of

biomass residues for optimization of municipal solid waste
combustion”, Proceedings of the Advances in Malaysian
Energy Research, pp. 9–16, 2004.

[3] M.S.S. Izat, Combustion analysis of agricultural

solid waste (palm shells), B.Eng Thesis, University of
Technology MARA, UiTM Shah Alam, Malaysia, 2006.

[4] Z. Ramlan, Fluidized bed pyrolysis of organic

solid waste, M. Eng. Thesis, University of Technology
Malaysia, UTM Skudai, Malaysia, 1995.

[5] S.A. Halim, “Waste material resources in

Malaysia”, Combustion Technologies for Lesser
Environments (CTCE’97), International Islamic University
(IIU) of Malaysia, 1997.

[6] W.M.W.A.Najmi, Emission characteristics of

palm oil shell in a cascading hearth staged combustor,
Journal of Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, UiTM,
Malaysia, vol. 1, no.1, pp. 15-28, 2004.

[7] S. Adi, Fluidized bed incineration of palm shell

and oil sludge waste, M.Eng. Thesis, University of
Technology Malaysia, UTM Skudai, Malaysia, 1998.

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