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Environmentalist (2012) 32:111–117

DOI 10.1007/s10669-011-9367-0


Land application of biomass residue generated from palm oil

processing: its potential benefits and threats
Asha Embrandiri • Rajeev P. Singh •
Hakimi M. Ibrahim • Azhani A. Ramli

Published online: 14 December 2011

Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Abstract Man’s increased demand for food and better (1,800–5,000 mm year-1). Palm can grow in a wide range
living conditions has led to over exploitation of resources of soil types with relatively low pH but is susceptible to
and the consequent generation of enormous amounts of high pH (Hartley 1988). In the last few decades, rapid
liquid and solid waste materials. This is one of the global global demand for edible oils has resulted in a significant
challenges for mankind. In Malaysia, palm oil mill waste increase in the land area of oil crop cultivation, mainly
(POMW) contributes the highest proportion of industrial soybean and oil palm (Yacob 2008). As compared to
solid wastes produced yearly. Wastes from the mills soybean, an annual crop highly influenced by weather-
include palm oil mill effluent, decanter cake, empty fruit related changes, the oil palm is more stable as it can be
bunches, seed shells and the fibre from the mesocarp. harvested all year long with very low weather-related risks.
Direct application of POMW into agricultural soil has Oil palms are efficient producers of high-quality, versatile
resulted in a number of problems such as water pollution, oils. Elaeis guineesis Jacq is the most productive species of
leaching. However, with application rates specific for tar- the genus Elaeis belonging to the family Palmae with one
geted plant species, land application can be employed as a hectare of oil palm producing 10–35 tonnes of fresh fruit
permanent solution to the problem of waste from palm oil bunch (FFB) per year (Singh et al. 2010, 2011).
mills. This review examines the characteristics of each of Oil palm is a perennial tree crop with an average
the palm oil wastes and their potential for use as a future planting cycle of 25 years for efficient productivity. A
fertilizer supplement. stand of the tree covers about 0.0068 ha of land and each
tree could yield about 150 kg of fresh fruit bunches per
Keywords Empty fruit bunch  Decanter cake  Palm year (Yusoff 2004). Malaysia and Indonesia together con-
kernel cake  Land application  Composting tribute over 87% of the total world production of palm oil
(Yacob 2008). In Malaysia, more than 3.79 million hect-
ares are used for oil palm cultivation covering one-third of
1 Introduction the total cultivated area (Yusoff and Hansen 2007). In
2005, there was a total of 423 palm oil mills with a total
Oil palm is a fast-growing crop, which grows in the production of approximately 89 million tonnes of fresh
tropical lowlands where rainfall is distributed evenly fruit bunch (FFB) per year (Singh et al. 2010, 2011). The
Malaysian oil palm industry contributes $ 7.3 billion to the
GDP annually as export. At present, there are over 2 mil-
A. Embrandiri (&)  H. M. Ibrahim  A. A. Ramli
lion ha of oil palm plantations in Malaysia alone replacing
Environmental Technology Division, School of Industrial
Technology, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Pinang, other agricultural crops like cocoa, rubber and coconut,
11800 Penang, Malaysia which in recent times have lost their market values (Lim
e-mail: 2000). Table 1 shows the trend of some of the commercial
crops in the past decade.
R. P. Singh
Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, Palm oil has a wide range of uses as cooking oil, an
Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi 221005, India ingredient in margarines and in most confectionaries. It is

112 Environmentalist (2012) 32:111–117

Table 1 Changes in land use of selected crops in Malaysia (million oil palm; the red palm oil from the fibrous mesocarp which
hectares) amounts to 40–50% of the FFB and lauric oil produced
Crop 1990 2005 from the palm kernel (Dashiny 2009). Kittikun et al. (2000)
report that oil yield from the kernel is about 40–50%.
Coconut 0.315 0.130
Potential yield from both mesocarp and kernel accounts for
Cocoa 0.416 0.033 about 17 t ha-1 year-1 of oil (Corley 1983). According to
Rubber 1.823 1.250 Pleanjai et al. (2004), about 1 tonne of crude palm oil
Oil palm 1.980 4.050 (CPO) is produced from 5.8 tonnes of FFB. Fibre, shell,
Source: Basiron (2006) decanter cake and empty fruit bunch (EFB) account for 30,
6, 3 and 28.5% of the FFB, respectively (Pleanjai et al.
2004). A flow chart of the palm oil milling process (Fig. 1)
also used as a base for most liquid detergents, soaps and
consists of the steps A to F.
shampoos. It serves as a base for lipstick, wax and other
cosmetics in its dense form. Due to increasing demand for A. Sterilisation is the first stage in the extraction of crude
palm oil, enormous quantities of wastes are generated. palm oil. The FFBs are sterilized batch-wise in an auto-
Thus, a need for the sustainable management of production clave for about 2 h per batch at about 120–130°C. This
which if left un-attended too will lead to environmental deactivates the hydrolytic enzymes responsible for the
problems. Research is on-going on the use of by-products breakdown of oil to free fatty acids and loosens the fruits
as biofuels for the future. Composting and vermicompo- from the bunches. The steam condensate generated from
sting have been gaining grounds as good options for the the sterilizer is one of the major sources of wastewater
management of these wastes because they are organic in (Thani et al. 1999).
composition. These two processes can add value and
B. Stripping (threshing) takes place after sterilisation of
reduce the waste volume for easier land application. (Yusri
FFB. The fruits are stripped by a rotary drum stripper and
et al. 1995; Thambirajah et al. 1995; Danmanhuri 1998).
collected in a bucket conveyor and discharged into a digester.
This review deals with the land application of the biomass
This stage results in the production of empty fruit bunches.
residues from the palm oil mills and its potential impacts
on environment. C. Digestion involves the mashing up of the steamed and
stripped fruit in a digester by its rotating arms. This results
in the breakdown of the oil-bearing cells. Twin screw
2 Waste from palm oil processing presses are used to squeeze out the oil from the digested
mash of fruits under high pressure. To improve the flow of
FFBs are crushed to produce CPO (crude palm oil) and the oils, hot water is added. No particular waste is produced
several by-products. Two types of oils are produced from in this step.

Fig. 1 Chart showing the

Fresh fruit bunch
stages in production of palm oil,
the type of waste produced and Water for boiler (2.2-
estimated quantities. Source: A Boiler Ash (0.02-0.06tons)
Modified from Oil recovery
from palm oil solid wastes
Dashiny 2009. A Sterilization, EFB (1.42-1.88tons)
B Stripping, C Digestion,
D Extraction, E Nut and fibre
separation, F Nut cracking C

Waste water (2.6-3.3m 3)



Fibre (1.42-2.06 ton)

CPO= 1 ton F

Kernel (0.26-0.38)tons Shell (0.26-0.44tons)

Environmentalist (2012) 32:111–117 113

D. Crude palm oil extraction involves removing fine with organic manure in order to add value and reduce mass.
solids and water while the homogenous oil mash from the This has proved to be beneficial to soil quality when
digester is passed through a screw press followed by a compared to using EFB alone (Prasertsan and Prasertsan
vibrating screen, a hydro-cyclone and decanter. Centrifugal 1996). EFB is very fibrous and contains cellulose
and vacuum driers are used to further purify the oil before (45–50%), hemicellulose and lignin in the same proportion
sending to a storage tank. The storage temperature is (Deraman 1993) and, as such, it has replaced the sawdust
maintained at 60°C with steam coil heating. Oil separation from rubber plants used earlier as the main substrate for the
and purification is then done by passing through a clarifi- cultivation of Pleurotus ostreatus (oyster mushroom) (Tabi
cation system. The mixture of various proportion of palm et al. 2008). Mushrooms convert the cellulose and lignin to
oil (35–45%), water (45–55%) and fibrous materials con- useful carbohydrates (glucose), an energy source for the
stitutes the crude palm oil (CPO) from the screw press. fungi. Similar to the coconut in India, EFB could be used
This is then pumped to a horizontal or vertical clarification for coir fibre, fibre board and tiles.
tank to skim the oil from top of the clarification tank. It is
then passed through a high-speed centrifuge and a vacuum 3.2 Palm press fibre (PPF)
dryer before being sent to storage tanks. The main wastes
produced in this step are wastewater and decanter cake. Palm press fibre (PPF) or mesocarp fibre is produced after
pressing fruit or mesocarp to obtain oil. On average, for
E. Nut/fibre separation The composition of the press cake
every tonne of FFB processed, 120 kg of fibre is produced
discharged from the screw press is moisture, oily fibre and
(Astimar et al. 2002). Pressed fibre is a good combustible
the cakes, which are then conveyed to a depericarper for
material because of the oil content. However, the shell
the nuts and the fibre separation (Thani et al. 1999). The
material is no longer used as fuel to generate steam and the
fibre is usually sent to the boiler house to be used as boiler
energy required for the operation of the mill because of
fuel. The next step is sending the nuts to a rotating drum to
pollution concerns. They can also be used to improve foliar
remove the remaining fibres.
nutrient levels and vegetative growth (Yusoff 2004). This
F. Nut cracking takes place in a centrifugal cracker or by-product (the fibre) is acceptable for ruminants at low
hydro-cyclone. Through clay suspension, the kernels and level of addition in the diet. Palm press fibre (PPF) ash
shells are separated after the cracking process. The last contains 1.7–6.6% P, 17–25% K, 7% Ca, which indicate
source of waste water stream comes out from this process that PPF is a good source of minerals to plants.
(Chow and Ho 2000). The separated shells from the kernels Oil palm fibre (OPF) is non-hazardous biodegradable
are sent to other mills as fuel, and the kernels are sent to a material extracted from oil palm’s empty fruit bunch (EFB).
silo dryer for sale. The fibres are clean, non-carcinogenic, free from pesticides
and have soft parenchyma cells. Palm fibres are versatile and
stable and can be processed into various dimensional grades to
3 Characteristics of (palm oil mill wastes) POMW suit specific applications such as mattress cushions, erosion
and its applications control, soil stabilisation/compaction, landscaping and horti-
culture, ceramic and brick manufacturing, thermoplastic filler,
3.1 Empty fruit bunch (EFB) flat board manufacturing, paper production, acoustics control,
compost, fertilizer and animal feed (Ramli et al. 2002).
EFBs are the residues left after the processing of fresh fruit
bunch (FFB) at the mill, which are suitable material for 3.3 Palm kernel shell (PKS)
recycling. In 2007, approximately 19, 03 million tonnes
of EFB was produced in Malaysia (Rosnah et al. 2009). Palm kernel shell (PKS) is difficult to decompose and it has
Earlier, they were used to generate steam for running the been used as mulch. According to Ortiz et al. (1992),
mills, and the residual ash amended with 30% potassium approximately 5 tonnes of shell are obtained from 66
was used as fertilizer (Lim 2000). The burning of EFB has tonnes of FFB. PKS is used for activated carbon produc-
been stopped to prevent air pollution. It is now mainly used tion. It has up tof 20.3% fixed carbon which is similar to
as mulch, which helps to control weed, prevent erosion coconut shell. Activated carbon can be used for decolo-
and maintains soil moisture. (Hamadan et al. 1998). This urisation of dark coloured effluent of the mills.
valuable biomass not only can be converted into energy,
but can also be used as a raw material for products such as 3.4 Palm kernel cake (PKC)
panelling, composites, fine chemicals, pulp and paper as
well as compost and biofertiliser (Rosnah et al. 2009). Palm kernel cake (PKC), sometimes referred to as palm
Studies have involved the feasibility of composting of EFB kernel expeller (PKE), is greyish white colour, and PKC is

114 Environmentalist (2012) 32:111–117

regarded as the most useful by-product among the various 3.8 Palm oil fuel ash (POFA)
by-products produced in the palm oil industry Saw et al.
(2008). It is a product of the mechanical extraction process Palm oil fuel ash (POFA) is a by-product of the palm oil
to produce kernel oil. PKC is rich in carbohydrate (48%) industry produced when the solid wastes of the mill are
and protein (19%) and suitable as feedstock (Kolade et al. used as fuel to generate electricity. Utilisation of POFA as
2005). A combination of PKC and goat manure or poultry a source of siliceous material for the synthesis of adsorbent
droppings has been used as a good compost fertilizer (Saw for flue gas desulfurisation is currently being studied
et al. 2008). (Schuchardt et al. 2008; Zainudin et al. 2005). Its minute
particles are difficult to manage so frequently it is disposed
3.5 Decanter cake (DC) of as landfill. The other agricultural waste ashes have been
used in concrete making, but POFA is silica-rich waste
Decanter cake (DC) is another waste product used as either with the potential to be used as constituent in cement
fertilizer or animal food (Southworth 1985). Haron and (Tangchirapat et al. 2007). However, more research must
Mohammed (2008) report that a mill with 90 t hr-1 FFB be conducted to demonstrate its usefulness. This potential
processing capacity will produce about 160–200 tonnes of application would in the long run reduce environmental
DC. Application of DC integrated with inorganic fertilizer problems and render the landfill sites safe.
can boost the efficiency of nutrient uptake by crops and
enhances the nutrient retention in the soil to improve soil
quality (Haron and Mohammed 2008). 4 Comparison of biomass residues from palm oil mill
with other agro-industrial waste
3.6 Palm oil mill effluent (POME)
The high cost of chemical fertilizers and associated harmful
Oil extraction, washing and cleaning processes in the mills, effects on fruit and vegetable crops have renewed interest in
is the main source of POME, which contains fats, oil and use of organic materials as nutrient sources for the culti-
grease. It is said to be the main source of environmental vation of crops such as tomato, spinach, okra, pulses and
pollution (Schuchardt et al. 2008). About 3 tonnes of rice. The use of easily available and cheap agro-industrial
POME is produced for every tonne of oil extracted in an oil wastes by farmers in both urban and rural areas ensures
mill. 15.8 million tonnes of crude palm oil were produced sustainability of production, a more balanced crop nutrition
in 2007, resulting in 47.4 million tonnes of POME (Rupani and mitigation or reduction in environmental impacts.
et al. 2010). Palm oil mill effluents contain high percent- Organic fertilizers mainly come from crop residues like rice
ages of carotene, an antioxidant that protects the cells bran, various oilseed cakes and animal by-products like
against the effects of free radicals (Abdullah 2008). meat bone meal, blood meal, fish meal and crab meal. They
Carotenes possess anti-cancer properties, enhance immu- contain specifically high levels of nutrients (e.g. N meal in
nities and prevent blindness and skin disorders. Pharma- oilseed cakes and blood meal and P in rice bran and bone
ceutical industries are therefore very keen on the extraction meal). They have high organic matter content and a variety
of carotene from the mill effluent (Wood and Lim 1989). of micronutrients (Blatt 1991; Cayuela et al. 2008; Jongtae
Adsorption chromatography is adopted to recover the 2010). As such, they have widely been used as a fertilizer.
carotenes present in the oil. The pollution potential of the Among the organic wastes recycled in agriculture, residual
effluent is also reduced when oil and grease are removed. sludge generated by wastewater treatment is a source of
Most of the palm oil mills in Malaysia have adopted the organic matter rich in both phosphorus and nitrogen. Land
2-pond system for the treatment of their effluents (Ma and application of residual sludge can contribute to the reha-
Ong 1985); initially, anaerobic digestion can take place, bilitation of degraded soils by improving soil quality (e.g.
followed by facultative ponds, where degradation of the increased organic matter content and fertility). (Singh and
effluent occurs under aerobic conditions. Agrawal 2007, 2008). Agrowastes such as poultry drop-
pings and compost have been successfully used on tomato
3.7 Palm oil mill sludge (POMS) plants (Adediran et al. 2003). Wastes such as spent grain,
cocoa pod husk, rice bran and sawdust have not yet received
Palm oil mill sludge is semi-solid portion left after the oil much attention in vegetable production. (Moyin-Jesu and
extraction and cleaning is complete. If disposed directly, it Atoyosoye 2002) observed that these agro-industrial wastes
will impact the environment adversely; it can be composted are very effective in increasing the nutrient content, growth
(Zahrim et al. 2007). This is usually done by drying the and yield of amaranthus, cocoa seedling and okra, respec-
sludge in open air ensuring it is secure from insects and tively. Table 2 gives the percentage dry matter of some
rodents. agro-industrial wastes.

Environmentalist (2012) 32:111–117 115

Table 2 Chemical analysis of crop residues (dry matter basis)

Source C:N ratio OM% C% N% P2O5% K2O% CaO% MgO%

Rice straw 78–88 – 54–56 0.64–0.69 0.05–0.11 2.0–2.1 0.42–1.2 0.3–0.52

Rice hull 70–106 – 39–52 0.48–0.70 0.11–0.46 0.28–1.3 0.21–0.34 0.09–0.4
Rice bran 18–22 67–78 50–55 2.0–2.4 3.60–4.47 1.43–2.45 0.13–0.35 1.11–1.78
Corn stalks 68 – 55 0.81 0.37 1.61 0.35 0.48
Sorghum stalks 73 – 53 0.73 0.25 1.94 0.60 0.62
Soybean stems 40 – 51 1.28 0.14 1.63 0.18 0.15
Peanut stems 30 – 42 1.30 0.37 1.31 1.97 1.15
Peanut hull 28 – 49 1.73 0.37 1.27 1.96 0.77
Coconut shell 37 96 53 1.43 0.18 0.50 0.36 0.20
EFB* – – 43.7 0.52 0.05 (P) 1.34 (K) 0.19 (Ca) 20 (Mg)
PKC** – – 96.21 2.88 0.60 (P) 0.19 (K) – –
DC** – – – 2.42 0.51 1.24 1.68 0.54
Source: Hsieh and Hsieh (1990)
C:N Carbon to nitrogen ratio, OM Organic matter, EFB Empty fruit bunch, PKC Palm kernel cake, DC decanter cake
* Singh et al. 2010, 2011
** Ramli et al. 2002

5 Land application: benefits and threats seedling growth and metal composition of Vicia faba L.
(broad bean). The results showed that addition of fly ash led
As the prices of crude oil continue to soar, the demand for to a significant increase in both pH and EC with increased
palm oil and its products have increased with large plant height and leaf area at 10% application. Olive mill
amounts of waste products and so have the large quantities wastes (OW) were used for the growth of lettuce and
of waste materials from the industry. The management and chicory by Kelepesi et al. (2009). The OW extract caused an
safe disposal of agricultural wastes are of global concern. increase in radical length of germinated seeds at 10-1–10-5
Management strategies for waste materials are a challenge concentrations. The effect of oil palm sludge on cowpea
for the industry. Land application of residual waste prod- nodulation and weed control was carried out by (Ekwueribe
ucts can result in ground and surface water contamination, et al. 2008), revealing that as the level of oil palm sludge
introduction of pathogens and odour problems. Improper increased, the length of root decreased irrespective of the
disposal of large quantities of agro-industrial waste leads cultivars or season. Similarly, AdeOluwa and Adeoye
ultimately to environmental degradation. Disposal options (2008) evaluated the possibility of using the composts of
frequently practiced include landfilling, indiscriminate different forms of EFB for raising oil palm in the nursery.
dumping at sea, soil application and incineration (Sanchez The composts were added at the rate of 4.8 g N plant-1 in
Monedero et al. 2004; Singh and Agrawal 2008). the soil. They concluded that composting of oil palm empty
Land application of sewage sludge, an organic residue, is fruit bunch in combination with cow dung led to better
becoming popular due to the possibility of nutrient recy- performance of oil palm seedlings. Hence, this treatment
cling of organic matter, N, P and other plant nutrients could be used as an alternative to mineral fertilizer for
(Singh and Agrawal 2007, 2008). This is applicable to other raising oil palm seedlings. Table 3 summarises the effects
agricultural wastes such as olive mill wastes, tannery and oil of some agricultural wastes at different amendment ratios.
seed cakes (Silva et al. 2010). Agro-industrial wastes such The use of pesticides in the treatment of crops and the
as sawdust, rice bran, cocoa husk were amended with cattle presence of heavy metals in pesticides is one of the sources
and goat droppings (Odedina et al. 2007). According to of heavy metal pollution of vegetables (Chiroma et al.
Aisueni and Omoti (1999), the oil palm industry is one of 2007). As fertilizers and pesticides are used to increase the
the best sources for organic fertilizer. Application of productivity and protect the plant from any pest and disease,
organic residues to soil can mitigate impacts; however, the there are chances of heavy metal uptake if they are present
waste composition should be determined before its land in nearby environment (Singh and Agrawal 2008). The
application as plants vary in their nutrient requirements. absorption, accumulation and tolerating ability of crops
(Ordoñez et al. 2006; Singh and Agrawal 2007, 2008). vary at different levels of amendments. Davis and Carlton-
Singh et al. (1997) conducted experiments with fly ash as Smith (1980) reported wide variations in heavy metal
soil amendments to assess impacts on seed germination, accumulation in crops grown in sludge amended soil.

116 Environmentalist (2012) 32:111–117

Table 3 Effect of different waste amendment ratios on growth and yield of plants
Plants Type of waste and amendment Effect on growth and yield of plants References

Maize Sewage Sludge @ 0, 10, 20, 30, Increase in germination with increasing amendment rate. Qasim et al. (2001)
40,50 t/ha dry weight Maximum root and shoot lengths at 20 t ha-1
Cucumber Sewage Sludge @ 0, 25, 50, Percentage of seed emergence was highest in the Onder et al. (2000)
75 100 w/w 100 w/w ratio
Broad bean Flyash @ 5–10% w/w in pots Increase in pH and EC, lower application of fly ash enhanced Singh et al. (1997)
seed germination and seedling growth
Capsicum Tannery sludge ? straw ? cattle Significant increase in leaf number, fruits, stem length Silva et al. (2010)
manure @ 0, 25, 50,75 100% w/w and chlorophyll content. Higher root, shoot length
and chlorophyll content
Lettuce Olive mill wastes @ 10, 30 and Improved seed emergence but reduced fresh weight Kelepsei et al. (2009)
50% amendment ratio

6 Conclusion Basiron Y (2006) Palm oil production through sustainable plantations.

Eur J Lipid Sci Tech 109:289–295
Blatt CR (1991) Comparison of several organic amendments with a
Unscientific disposal of POMW could lead to environ- chemical fertilizer for vegetable production. Sci Hortic 47:
mental concerns such as contamination of waters, pests, 177–191
fungal, odour problems and creating an imbalanced food Cayuela M, Miguel A, Sa0 nchez-Monedero MA, Roig A (2008) Two-
chain. A cost benefit analysis suggests that with every form phase olive mill waste composting: enhancement of the
composting rate and compost quality by grape stalks addition.
of treatment comes negative and positive effects. However, Biodegradation 21:465–473
if utilised in a scientific manner, land applications of Chiroma TM, Abdulkarim BI, Kefas HM (2007) The impact of
POMW will help to improve soil characteristics, nutrient pesticide application on heavy metal (Cd, Pb and Cu) levels in
recycling and will also be a sustainable management option Spinach. Leonardo Electron J Pract Technol 6(11):117–122
Chow MC, Ho CC (2000) Surface active properties of palm oil with
for the tonnes of oil palm waste being produced. Land respect to processing of palm oil. J Oil Palm Res 12(1):107–116
application of the palm mill waste in the recommended Corley RHV (1983) Potential productivity of tropical perennial crops.
doses on other crops besides the palm is a good alternative Exp Agric 19:217
to chemical fertilizers in the countries where they are Danmanhuri MA (1998) Hands-on experience in the production of
empty fruit bunches (EFB) compost. Paper presented at the
generated in abundance. CETDEM Malaysian organic farming seminar. Petaling, Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia, 1998; 50–61. Dateline: 25/10/2002 09:45:09r
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Ismail for his encouragement and suggestions throughout the editing Dissertation University, Malaya Pahang
of this manuscript. We would also like to thank Universiti Sains Davis RD, Carlton-Smith CH (1980) Crops as indicators of the
Malaysia under the PRGS 1001/PTEKIND/844080 grant scheme for significance of contamination of soil by heavy metals. Water
the funding provided. Research Centre Tech. Rep. TR140, Stevenage (UK)
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empty fruit bunches: 1.A quantitative X-ray diffraction analysis.
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