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Journal of Oil Palm Research Vol. 17 December 2005,A p.

NEW145-151
SYSTEM FOR CONTINUOUS STERILIZATION OF OIL PALM FRESH FRUIT BUNCHES

A NEW SYSTEM FOR CONTINUOUS
STERILIZATION OF OIL PALM FRESH
FRUIT BUNCHES
K SIVASOTHY*; ROHAYA MOHD HALIM* and YUSOF BASIRON*

ABSTRACT
A system is proposed for continuous sterilization of oil palm fresh fruit bunches based on crushing bunches to
facilitate steam penetration into bunches and subsequently heating the bunches using live steam at atmospheric
pressure to an extent sufficient to facilitate stripping of the fruits. An attempt is made to evaluate this system
using a pilot-scale set-up.

Keywords: bunch crushing, sterilization, continuous sterilization, continuous processing, mill automation.
Date received: 21 June 2004; Sent for revision: 14 August 2004; Received in final form: 31 May 2005; Accepted: 24 November 2005.

INTRODUCTION bunches (Figure 1) were significantly lower than
those normally used for uncrushed bunches.
In the conventional milling process, fresh fruit The main aim of this study was to examine a new
bunches are loaded in cages and pushed into concept for continuous sterilization. The study
sterilizers where they are cooked for about 70 to 90 allowed us to gauge the extent to which the results
min using steam at 40 psig. The process arrests oil achieved by heating bunches using steam at
quality deterioration due to enzymatic activity. It also atmospheric pressure in a laboratory-scale batch
facilitates the stripping of fruits from the bunches autoclave during exploratory studies were
and the extraction of oil and kernel (Mongana reproducible in a pilot plant based on the proposed
Report, 1955). Operations related to the batch concept. Since the concept is new, it was essential to
sterilization process absorb much of the process demonstrate that it works on a pilot-scale before
labour in a typical mill. Continuous sterilization has scaling up to a commercial system.
eluded the palm oil industry despite the many The pilot plant study also provided insight into
attempts made over the past five decades. The need the problems associated with integrating the new
to use steam at high pressure with intermittent sterilization process with the rest of the milling
pressure releases to achieve good sterilization process.
complicates the problem of achieving continuous
processing.
Exploratory studies (Sivasothy and Rohaya, 2000; PROPOSED SYSTEM
Sivasothy et al., 2000) on continuous sterilization of
oil palm fresh fruit bunches, carried out using a The ability to sterilize bunches using steam at low
double-roll bunch crusher and a laboratory-scale pressure and without the use of multiple-peak cycles,
batch steam autoclave, showed that the extent of nut facilitates the development of a continuous
breakage by the crusher was small and that there sterilization process. The problem of continuously
was no significant deterioration in the oil quality due transferring bunches to and from the sterilizer can
to bruising of the fruit mesocarp if the bunches are now be more easily surmounted. Many different
heated immediately after crushing. The sterilization methods were explored, both for transferring
time and steam pressure required to achieve bunches to and from the sterilizer, as well as for
complete stripping of fruits from the crushed conveying the bunches through the sterilizer.
Ideally, the method used for conveying should
ensure continuous and uninterrupted flow of the
* Malaysian Palm Oil Board, product and ensure consistent product retention time
P. O. Box 10620,
50720 Kuala Lumpur,
with little or no short-circuiting. There should also
Malaysia. be little probability of product accumulating inside
E-mail: siva@mpob.gov.my the sterilizer as this is detrimental to the oil and

145

it is possible to reduce the steam loss from the feed and discharge openings. flap valves or gate valves to minimize the handle all types of bunches. or slightly above. This requires both openings to be made as small as The bunches are pre-heated using steam that possible while allowing continuous and bleeds from the continuous sterilization chamber. the system (both the valve and the thereby ensuring that the temperature in the continuous sterilizer) should be designed to enable continuous sterilization chamber is close to that of heating the bunches using steam at. simple and compact design. (softened) fruits and lost with the condensate and By making use of both the forward and return paths empty bunch stalks. The bunches should also be conveyed continuous sterilization chamber. low sterilization chamber through one or more rotary maintenance and operating cost. disruption of the The bunches are further heated after they leave closed-knit arrangement of the spikelets in the fresh the continuous sterilization chamber using steam fruit bunches is achieved using a double-roll crusher. Pre-heating the bunches also the retention time to cope with varying bunch facilitates deaeration and minimizes the amount of ripeness. kernel quality. overall length of the chamber. achieved inside an enclosed vessel called the 146 . they are crushed using hot water at above 60ºC. water bath can be heated to above 60ºC to enable As shown in Figure 2. As in the preliminary studies. A single crusher should steam loss. sterilization system that sufficiently addresses the In this case. This throughput. and ability to valves. minimal nut breakage. be used if the delay between crushing and steam Figure 2 illustrates a proposal for a continuous heating is enough to cause oil quality deterioration.JOURNAL OF OIL PALM RESEARCH 17 (DECEMBER 2005) Figure 1. An additional pre-heating step may atmospheric pressure. including continuous sterilization chamber. The bunches are without being subjected to very high forces as the heated for about 60 min inside this vessel using live cooking progresses as the application of pressure steam while they are conveyed using a double-deck may lead to oil being easily released from the cooked scraper conveyor or some other type of conveyor. uninterrupted flow of the product through the This facilitates heating the bunches immediately after system. they are crushed to above 60ºC to deactivate the The system should preferably also be able to cope lipolytic enzymes responsible for the formation of with fluctuating flow rates and permit changes in free fatty acids. air entering the continuous sterilization chamber. low power consumption. saturated steam. that bleeds from the discharge at the end of the This crusher provides many advantages. Relationship between steaming pressure and streaming time to achieve complete stripping of bunches. The base of the feed conveyor can also be able to handle a typical palm oil mill’s entire be filled with water to seal against steam loss. of the scraper conveyor for conveying the bunches The system should also be designed to minimize as shown in Figure 2. the bunches are heated immediately after above considerations. The bunches enter and leave the continuous low investment cost. the bulk of the heating is simultaneous deactivation of the lipolytic enzymes. Preferably.

chamber were held in a hopper and periodically weights and opened by the impact of the bunches. It was observed that between the rollers. 147 . which was approximately 1. The drum stripper in the mill where this study was bunches were hand-fed to the crusher one at a time carried out. By making use in the feed conveyor and then a further 56 min in of both the forward and return paths for conveying. (Figures 3 and 4) was specifically designed for heating The crushed bunches were pre-heated for 6 min using steam at atmospheric pressure. Proposed system for continuous sterilization. chamber to minimize steam loss. The speeds of rotation of the the temperature in the continuous sterilization rollers were 22 and 32 rpm. PILOT PLANT at 30 to 60 s intervals. The hinged flaps The bunches leaving the continuous sterilization were kept in the normally closed position by counter. to accommodate the low throughput of the pilot The cooked bunches were stripped by a typical plant.2 to 2. it was possible to achieve a total conveyor length of Steam was introduced at a number of points at only approximately 20 m. both decks. discharged by a hydraulically controlled sliding This simple steam-locking mechanism was sufficient door. used for conveying the bunches to the continuous The continuous sterilization chamber was sterilization chamber. A NEW SYSTEM FOR CONTINUOUS STERILIZATION OF OIL PALM FRESH FRUIT BUNCHES Figure 2.4 t hr-1. chamber could be quite easily maintained close to A steam-sealed inclined scraper conveyor was 100ºC. the continuous sterilization chamber. A simple double-flap door was insulated to minimize heat loss and slightly tilted to used at the entrance of the continuous sterilization facilitate condensate discharge. The steam that escaped through the inlet valve was used to pre-heat the bunches in The continuous sterilization pilot plant set-up the feed conveyor. The rate at which steam was introduced The crushing was carried out using a double-roll was manually adjusted to minimize loss from the bunch crusher with a fixed clearance of 15 mm entrance and discharge ends.

Figure 4. Continuous sterilization pilot plant.. Only a small plant under similar process conditions. BUNCH STRIPPABILITY autoclave and pilot plant allowed good contact between steam and bunches. Both the percentage (approximately 8.3%) of bunches still had 148 .JOURNAL OF OIL PALM RESEARCH 17 (DECEMBER 2005) Figure 3. Fresh fruit bunch crusher. The study provided The strippability of bunches achieved by heating conclusive evidence that crushed fruit bunches using a laboratory-scale batch steam autoclave sterilized in a continuous manner using steam at (Sivasothy et al. 2000) was comparable to that atmospheric pressure for about 1 hr can be stripped achieved under continuous processing in the pilot using a conventional drum stripper.

(iii) softening of the fruit pulp 60 min of further heating using steam at atmospheric to facilitate further treatment of the fruit during pressure were necessary.51 a comparative study of the cooking effectiveness of batch and continuous sterilization based on the ease of peeling off of the mesocarp from the nuts.68 and screw press. This may be a batch sterilization. bunches to facilitate steam penetration during sterilization were observed.13% of the fruits from Examination of the unstripped bunches showed batch sterilization.36 insufficient to achieve all the above objectives of 40 2. the peeling was fruits left. Large were not as well-cooked as the fruits from batch variations in the effectiveness of opening up of the sterilization.81 batch sterilization. (iv) heating and partial sufficient at 10 psig.68 steam at atmospheric pressure appears to be 20 6. A few oil mill.04 43. To maximize the not be peeled off from 24. Very small bunches were TABLE 1. of continuous sterilization. There were none of the highly unstripped achieved without the use of scrapers.10 37. it is important that the continuous sterilization. whereas 20 to 30 min were digestion and pressing. and (vi) hydrolysis/decomposition of Heating time Hard fruits Peeled mesocarp mucilaginous material to also facilitate the oil (min) (%) (%) clarification process. It may be necessary to modify the stripper to prevent this. were cooked in an autoclave using steam at splitting enzymes to prevent an increase in free fatty atmospheric pressure and at a pressure of 10 psig. ASSESSMENT OF COOKING EFFECTIVENESS also not effectively opened up by the crusher because the gap between the rollers was too large. Although the mesocarp was soft enough 149 .48 39. dehydration of the nuts to enable the nuts to be cracked more readily. fruits from mill) 2. bunches commonly observed with the batch It can be observed from Table 1 that the mesocarp sterilization process. for the Even the unstripped bunches had only very few purpose of this qualitative test. These fruits were mainly from the that many of the fruits could be easily stripped by inner layers of the bunch and had a very thin hand. A NEW SYSTEM FOR CONTINUOUS STERILIZATION OF OIL PALM FRESH FRUIT BUNCHES unstripped fruits after passing through the stripper. the mesocarp could drum stripper was less than 100%. (v) coagulation of protein in TABLE 2. This Source Hard Peeled problem can probably be rectified by fine-tuning the fruits mesocarp crusher operation or by using more than one (%) (%) crushing step (either in series or in parallel).10% of the fruits from stripping effectiveness. whereas it was 37. On the other hand. It was observed that there was a tendency for Batch sterilization small pieces of stripped spikelets to pass through (i.13 45. indicating that the stripping efficiency of the mesocarp.e. Heating crushed bunches for about 60 min using 0 24. It is believed that heating during batch kilograms of fruits from continuous sterilization sterilization results in: (i) deactivation of the oil. EFFECT OF FURTHER HEATING ON FRUITS the oil-bearing cells to prevent formation of colloidal USING STEAM AT ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE complexes to facilitate the separation/clarification of the oil. It can also be observed from bunches should have sufficient mass so that the force Table 2 that the peeled mesocarp constituted 45. to be quite easily peeled off by scraping.47% generated by the impact after their fall in the stripper of the initial weight of peeled fruits in the case of is sufficient to dislodge the fruits.48 40.68% in the case problem with small pieces of crushed bunches. Table 1 summarizes the results of 60 1. The mesocarp was peeled off by a simple squeezing action using our fingers without applying too much pressure. acids (FFA). could not be peeled off from 2. The above test clearly Another factor responsible for the unstripped shows that the fruits from continuous sterilization bunches could be poor crushing effectiveness.47 the bars in the stripper drum and end up with the fruits and subsequently pass through the digester Continuous sterilization 24. (ii) loosening of the fruits in the bunch It can be observed from Tables 2 and 3 that about to facilitate stripping. Exploratory studies were carried out using a laboratory-scale batch autoclave to assess the extent ASSESSMENT OF COOKING EFFECTIVENESS of further heat treatment that will be required to fully cook the fruits to a comparable standard as batch Sterilization is one of the key processes in the palm sterilization as gauged by the peeling test.10 37.

21 The iron content of oil from continuous sterilization was about 2 ppm higher than that from Percentage broken batch sterilization.65 commercially.18 44. Typically. the FFA content in the oil from the processing using the conventional milling process.41 surfaces of the conveyors and this could easily have in fibre been scraped off by the bunches.62 operated daily and often left idle for several days. batch sterilization. the fruits heated to the fact that the bunches used in our continuous using a conventional digester and the oil extracted sterilization were generally fresher than the bunches using a twin-screw press. case of continuous sterilization. Samples of the oil and press cake were they are processed by the mill.85 FFA content (%) 2. trials were still conducted on further From Table 5.77 3. the oil from fruits by screw pressing in spite of the DOBI value of the oil from continuous sterilization reduced cooking effectiveness of the continuous was higher by 0. The moisture and oil content reduced oxidation due to the sterilization being of the pressed fibre (Table 4) were higher than with carried out at a lower temperature.29 30 0 DOBI 2. This could be due stripped using a drum stripper.24 6. This can be attributed to the short pressing and the carotene content of the oil. Table 5 shows that although the peroxide value The study showed that it was possible to extract was approximately the same for both processes.61 10 14.17 due to increased contact with the metal surfaces Percentage whole during the conveying.5.49 150 . The higher iron content may be nuts .07 4.JOURNAL OF OIL PALM RESEARCH 17 (DECEMBER 2005) TABLE 3.22 Carotene content (ppm) 598 546 FURTHER PROCESSING Iron content (ppm) 4. It is likely that lower pressure was applied Parameter Batch Continuous when pressing the fruits from continuous sterilization sterilization sterilization (reflected in the higher moisture and oil contents of the fibre).68 2.32 Peroxide value (meq) 0. This may have been due to sterilization process. whereas the bunches collected from the same screw press when processing processed by the pilot plant were mainly freshly fruits from continuous sterilization as well as fruits brought to the mill. 6.1% in the oil correlation between the cooking effectiveness and from continuous sterilization (Table 5) shows that carotene content of the oil. changing the operating and design parameters of the The oil and press cake were lighter coloured in the screw press. fresh fruit bunches about 20 to 45 min of continuous processing by the are stored in hoppers for at least a few hours before screw press. There is probably a The generally low FFA content of 2. 1. Percentage oil in fibre (dry basis) 6. Further studies are needed to The carotene content of the oil from continuous gauge if the oil loss in fibre can be reduced by sterilization (Table 5) was lower by about 50 ppm. ANALYSIS OF PRESS CAKE press.30 0. It was possible to achieve processed by the mill.09 8. Percentage fibre . The pilot plant was not nuts . F/N ratio . 1991) showed that the oil from the second press generally had a higher carotene content than the oil from the first TABLE 4. 44. EFFECT OF STERILIZATION PROCESS ON USING STEAM AT 10 psig OIL QUALITY Heating time (min) Hard fruits (%) Parameter Batch Continuous sterilization sterilization 0 20. on double pressing (Choo and Yap. from batch sterilization. Further studies are required to establish if a comparable increase in iron Percentage oil in content can be expected in a plant operated fibre (wet basis) 4.18 Although the fruits from continuous sterilization were not as well cooked as the fruits from the batch process. There may also be a there is no significant increase in FFA due to bruising correlation between the pressure applied during by the crusher. continuous sterilization was slightly lower than that About two to three sterilizer cages of bunches were in the oil from batch sterilization.10 20 4. 49. EFFECT OF FURTHER HEATING ON FRUITS TABLE 5. Studies delay between the crushing and heating steps.00 Rust was observed to have formed on the inside Percentage moisture 33.

The pilot MONGANA REPORT (1955). ROHAYA. The effect of bruising by bunch crushing on FFA formation was also observed to be SIVASOTHY. plant study has also demonstrated that the bunches Bangi p. Steam loss from promising approach for continuous sterilization. can be heated using steam at atmospheric pressure without difficulty. M H and TAN. M H (2000). 17-20 May 2000. digester and probably July 2000. K and ROHAYA. 3-4 in the design of the stripper. sterilization system was minimized by incorporating Kuala Lumpur. such as clarification and nut cracking. It appears that slight changes Technology and Environmental Management. Volume 1. It has also demonstrated the possibility of sterilizing crushed bunches in a continuous manner using steam at atmospheric pressure to an extent REFERENCES sufficient for most of the fruits to be quite easily stripped by a conventional drum stripper. 3-4 no major problems integrating the proposed July 2000. Quality and Environment. a pre-heating section. PORIM. The focus in CHOO. i. not properly evaluated. stripping. Y M and YAP. however. The effect of the new process on milling processes further downstream. Y W insignificant. Genting Highlands. (2000). bunches. were. Recent Developments in Palm Oil Milling digestion and pressing. The study has also shown that there should be Refining Technology. Valuable this study has been on the processes that components from palm pressed fibre. continuous feeding of bunches to the continuous International Planters Conference. Continuous sterilization of fresh fruit heated immediately after crushing. especially if the bunches were pre. Genting Highlands. 62-80. The system and provided the information needed for authors also wish to thank the management of scaling up to commercial-scale and integrating with Kumpulan Guthrie Berhad for their permission to the rest of the palm oil milling process. S C (1991). K. carry out this study in Rantau Palm Oil Mill. achieved throughout the continuous sterilizer in Crushing and sterilization of fresh fruit bunches: a spite of the very low pressure. continuous sterilization process with the rest of the milling process in a conventional mill. A NEW SYSTEM FOR CONTINUOUS STERILIZATION OF OIL PALM FRESH FRUIT BUNCHES CONCLUSION ACKNOWLEDGEMENT The pilot plant study has demonstrated the technical The authors wish to thank the Director-General of viability of the proposed continuous sterilization MPOB for permission to publish this paper. National Seminar on Palm Oil Milling. Uniform temperature was SIVASOTHY. 151 . Seminar on immediately follow sterilization. even the screw press may be needed.e.