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EPF 4707

Palm oil mill is among the few industries which are selfsustainable as they are able to generate their own utilities; electricity and steam. The steam system in the palm oil mill consists of a high pressure boiler, a turbine and a back pressure vessel (BPV). The fuel to the boiler usually consists of palm oil waste; empty fruit bunches (EFB), shell and fiber.

The high pressure boiler supplies high pressure steam at 35 bar, which is mainly passed through three streams; i.e. stream 201 A, 201 B and 201 C, which forms 7%, 10% and 84% of the boiler output respectively. Steam was supplied to the vacuum dryer in stream 201 A and make up valve in stream 201 B. At stream 201 C, steam was supplied to the turbine to generate electricity. The exhaust steam from the turbine, which is now at 3 bar is channelled to the BPV.

The BPV functions as a temporary storage of low pressure steam, distributing the steam mainly to sterilizers and other processes in the mill. Nevertheless, some of the steam ends up getting lost to the atmosphere.

The main process that dominates the pattern of steam demand and distribution is the sterilization process. This process involves the extraction of crude palm oil by freeing the fruits from the fresh fruit bunch (FFB) and breaking the oil cells in the mesocarp. This operation uses the largest amount of steam in the palm oil mill. However sterilisation, tend to cause the steam demand to fluctuate severely as it is operates in batches.

7% (Sivasothy Kandiah et al., 1992) Vacuum Dryer 10% (Sivasothy Kandiah et al., 1992) Sterilizer 84% (Sivasothy Kandiah et al., 1992) Steam Accumulator Other Processes


Loss to Atmosphere




In palm oil mill, the steam system plays a vital role as energy or steam supplier. It not only produces steam for processes such as sterilisers and other processing stations but also distributes steam to the turbine for the generation of electricity.

This production of steam as a source of heating and power generation has a great advantage.
The cost of fuel used for the boiler combustion process is low due to the availability of waste materials such as fibre and shell generated during the production of crude oil and kernel.

In addition, the consumption of diesel oil used as supplementary fuel for the generation of electricity is also reduced as a result of the above available sources of energy. Heat from combustion of fibre and shell is transferred through tubes or drums to heat the water in the boiler which then evaporates as steam. A typical arrangement of the main components of a steam station in palm oil mills is shown in next figure.




P : 250-300 psig PROCESS


STERILISERS P : 40-45 psig

The steam leaves the boiler through the boiler outlet or main steam line (high pressure main): This main steam line branches out into three sublines, where one of the lines carries steam to the high pressure processing stations. The second sub-line channels steam from the boiler into the turbine.

The third sub-line conveys steam directly from the boiler to the back pressure vessel (BPV) and the flow of this sub-line is controlled by a pneumatic make-up valve.

In the turbine, part of the high pressure steam is transformed into electrical energy and the remainder is exhausted as low pressure steam before entering the BPV, which acts as low pressure steam storage vessel (low pressure main).

From the BPV, the low pressure steam is distributed to sterilisers and other heating stations such as press station, clarification station and nut and kernel silo.
The low pressure steam at about 40 psig is used to cook fresh fruit bunches (FFB) for a certain period of time in the steriliser.

One of the most difficult units to control in a palm oil mill is back pressure vessel (BPV). Also known as steam accumulator, BPV is critical and has to be kept stable all the time. The size of the BPV used in the mill is 1.0 meter in diameter and 5.0 meters in length.

BPV control is difficult as it has to balance the steam supply and demand to several processes, such as boiler combustion, turbine steam consumption, sterilization and other mill heating processes.

If the steam demand is high but the storage is insufficient to be supplied, steam is bypassed directly from main stream and the flow is controlled by a make-up valve, located in stream 201 B. This valve only functions when the BPV pressure is less than 3 bar. For low steam demands, excess steam is blown off to the atmosphere through a relief valve to maintain the BPV pressure.

This relief valve functions when the BPV is more than 4 bar.

A major problem associated with back pressure vessel is imbalances of steam demand. A steam deficit or low back pressure arises from excessive steam demand during sterilizer peaking operation. While low steam demand occurs rapidly during sterilizer exhaust and holding periods resulting in excessive steam blow off.

This causes a steam surplus in the BPV. If this problem is not tackled, the operations of steam turbine and mill processing will be affected.

This could result in operation down time thus affecting mill throughput.Besides, the design of BPV also influences its operations to a certain extent. The specific details for this design are closely guarded by industrial designers as trade secrets.

A steam accumulator is a pressure vessel, partially filled with hot water that allows the operation of boiler at a constant output equal to the average steam demand. To use a steam accumulator, there must be some demand on steam at a pressure significantly lower than boiler and the maximum high pressure demand cannot exceed the boiler operating rate. The fluctuating load can be either at low pressure main or high pressure main.

However, when the steam consumption of a factory or mill is fairly constant and there are no sharp peak demands, then an accumulator is not required Steam stored in a steam accumulator is immediately available to the consumers and can be used to supplement various types of steam demand. For short periods, the accumulator can discharge steam at very high rates and reduce the size of the boiler plant required.

When steam is subject to regular cycles or predictable fluctuations, the load can be balanced for hours or even days. In every case, there will be a more steady load on the boiler plant, whereby losses are reduced and fuel savings achieved. Thus, steam storage acts as an additional tool to ensure that steam supply is adequate and efficient at any time. Furthermore, it can convert the most unfavourable type of steam demand fluctuation to the most favourable type with steady consumption

Goldstern (1970) has reported that an adequate size of accumulator installation is capable to introduce an elastic connection between the steam generator and the user. The steam accumulator can take the sensitive load fluctuations. Consequently, the generation of steam from the boiler can be made uniform and held constant for long intervals. The effect of steam accumulator on balancing pressure fluctuations in the steam demand is shown in next figures



10 5 0 6 8 10 12 14 16 Time of day (hr)

Pressure variation without steam accumulator (Goldstern, 1970)

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 6 8 10 12 14 16 Time of day (hr)

Figure 2.3 : Pressure variation with steam accumulator of adequate size (Goldstern, 1970)


The actual pressure required for most of the processes in palm oil mills is low (40 to 45 psig) compared to the steam main from boiler output (250 to 300 psig). This system allows for the utilisation of the exhaust low pressure from a turbine or steam engine. Fibre and shell are used as fuel to produce the electrical power, steam supply and meet all processing demands.

The steam demand for sterilisation operation is not regular, depending on the size and the number of steriliser units used in mill operation. On the contrary, the steam demand for other process requirement tends to be steadier. The steam distribution to various stations of a typical palm oil mill for a triple peak sterilisation of 25 tonnes/hr of FFB under normal operation is shown in next table In a triple peak sterilisation, steam is admitted into and removed from sterilisers for a series of three continuous cycles.

The purposes of this steam admission and removal cycles are to remove the air in the sterilisers and ease the buildup of cooking pressure for proper sterilisation. The figure for steam utilisation shown in this table is only an average overall hourly distribution and does not reflect instantaneous value especially during sterilisation.

In the initial pressure build-up stage of sterilisation, steam demand to sterilisers may be varied accordingly to the size and the number of steriliser units, as well as sterilisation method.


Steam Flowrate (kg/hr) 14744

Percentage of Boiler Output (%) 100

Boiler output Before back pressure vessel Turbine Make-up Vacuum dryer Before back pressure vessel Sterilisers Other processes Loss to atmosphere

12389 1540 1068

83 10 7

5219 3302 5433

37 24 39

This can easily exceed the boiler capacity if the steam distribution is not accurately regulated, and if the sequencing cycles are not properly controlled. Utilization of existing energy resources is crucial not only for large industrial processes but also for small production plant and in particular oil palm mills where the balance between heat and power are required for production process which are pre-condition for a combined heat and power (CHP) scheme. Or commonly referred to as CO-GENERATION SYSTEM.

Solid waste fuel in the form of shell, fibre and empty bunches which are by-products of the process are utilized as fuel for the boiler. Steam is required for processing at the approximate rate of 500kg per hour per ton FFB. This steam can be easily raised in a reasonably efficient water tube boiler with fuel available from the fibre, shell and empty bunch.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Existing Boiler System For Palm Oil Mill. A conventional palm oil mill: 20 - 40 ton biomass/hour

Electrical energy required to process 1 ton of FFB is about 20 kWh. In Malaysia the most widely used boiler is of D type which is either in the form of fire tube or water tube.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Fire tube boiler is normally used for small mill to process about 20 ton to 30 ton per hour and water tube boiler is used for 50 ton to 60 ton per hour.
In this boiler, combustion of palm oil biomass generates steam and this steam is used for power generation, sterilization and digestion. Flue gases resulted from combustion process are transported to the chimney.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

The Existing Boiler System at Palm Oil Mill

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Properties/Chemical of Solid Fuel Four standard tests are common: The ultimate chemical analysis determines the mass percentage of C, H, O, N, S, ash and water of the fuel. The proximate analysis, determines the mass percentage of Volatiles, Ash, and Fixed Carbon. A test to determine the moisture content of the fuel on a wet or dry basis. A bomb calorimeter test to determine the Higher Heating Value (HHV) of the fuel in MJ/kg, as received.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Properties/Chemical of Solid Fuel ONE SHOULD BE AWARE OF THE FOLLOWING: The HHV of the fuel is determine by a laboratory. Most laboratories report the HHV on a moisture free basis (mf). That may cause the misconception that the HHV is the energy content of a fuel in a totally dry state.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

The LHV is not measured, but rather calculated from the HHV. The amount of water vapor generated during the combustion of the fuel must be known. The water vapor refers to physically and chemically bound water in the fuel. Calculating the chemically bound water in the fuel, one must know the Hydrogen content of the fuel.
The LHV is certainly not the energy content of the fuel in a wet state. It is the HHV minus the energy stored in the physically and chemically bound water of the fuel.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Properties/Chemical of Solid Fuel ONE SHOULD BE AWARE OF THE FOLLOWING: Any ultimate chemical analysis (C, N, H, O, S) of a fuel where the percentage of the species does not add up to 100 % is incomplete. Whoever has done the test forgot to report the results of the proximate analysis (Moisture, Volatile Matter, Fixed Caron, Ash). You are mostly interested in four numbers: HHV, ASH, MOISTURE, and SULFUR CONTENT of the fuel.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Properties/Chemical of Solid Fuel ONE SHOULD BE AWARE OF THE FOLLOWING: All biomass fuels, except coal, no matter whether we talk about rice hulls, water lilies, wood, bagasse or coconut shells have on the average the following ultimate chemical composition on a moisture and ash free basis: C 50 % H O 6 % 44 % N 0% S 0%

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

A Higher Heating Value of about 20 MJ/kg on a moisture and ash free basis. The above generic ultimate chemical composition of biomass combined with more specific data about the moisture and ash content of the fuel is sufficient as data input for thermal efficiency calculations, of biomass fired combustion systems.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

It is reported that in a typical palm oil mill, for 1 ton of FFB the mill produces 140 kg of fibre and 60 kg of shell are produced.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Typical Proximate & Ultimate Analysis Of Oil Palm Solid Waste
Component Proximate Analysis Fixed carbon Volatile matter Moisture Ash Ultimate Analysis Carbon Hydrogen Oxygen Nitrogen Sulphur Ash Moisture Higher heating value (MJ/kg) 45.61 6.23 37.51 1.73 0 1.01 7.96 18 18.56 72.47 7.96 1.01 % By Mass

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Annual Production of Oil Palm Biomass In A Typical Oil Palm Mill

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Properties/Chemical of Solid Fuel - Moisture Contents The major problem in the use of oil palm biomasses as fuels. Moisture content for oil palm fibre and shell is 30 to 35%.

Since for the gasification system, the moisture content of approximately 20% is desired.

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Properties/Chemical of Solid Fuel - Calorific values The calorific values are determined based on the moisture and oil contents of the oil palm fibres and shells. The net calorific values of oil palm shells and fibres are given in this table

The Calorific Values of Oil Palm Shells & Fibres

Solid Fuel Characteristic & Combustion

Oil Palm Shell

Oil Palm Fibre

Oil Palm Empty Fruit Bunch

Power is required at the approximate rate of 15 to 25 kw per ton FFB. This can be easily be provided by placing a backpressure single stage steam turbine between the boiler and the header of the mill processing system. Steam is generated from the boiler at a pressure of say 20 Bar.g and into the steam turbo alternator at 18.5 Bar.g at 260C with back pressure of 3.16 Bar.g for the mill process which is convenient and effective for process heating.

The additional power generated in this system is made possible by burning of the empty bunches as shown in the enclosed Fuel /Steam /Power balance and Steam Production from 1 Ton Solid Waste Fuel for a Oil Palm Mill.
Every ton of FFB can produce 733 kg steam and 30kw power shown, in the diagram below : A system has been introduced for the treatment and disposal of empty bunches and recovery of palm oil and at the same instance reduces the moisture contents of the empty bunches to approx. 45 % so that they can be used as solid waste fuel for the boiler and production of additional steam and electrical power.

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 6 8 10 12 14 16 Time of day (hr)


Pressure variation without steam accumulator (Goldstern, 1970)

Pressure variation with steam accumulator of adequate size (Goldstern, 1970)

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 6 8 10 12 14 16 Time of day (hr)


Every Tonne of FFB Can Produce 733 kg Steam & 30 kw Power

Steam is produced by water tube boilers at pressures and temperatures higher (20 bar.g 207 deg. C) than required for the process. First it is expanded in steam turbines, and then led into the process where the latent heat contained in the exhaust steam (3.16 bar.g) is utilized for sterilisation of FFB and heating systems in the process. The diagram below show a typical CHP (Combined Heat & Power) scheme of a modern oil palm mill.

The energy released during the expansion of steam is converted by the turbine into mechanical power to drive an alternator

There is a direct relationship between the number of palms cultivated and the corresponding harvest yield of a given plantation area processed by the mill, the primary energy available in the by product fuel, and power / heat requirement of the mill A properly design Oil Palm Mill will not only provide sufficient steam and electrical power for its operation requirement but will provide an additional 17 to 33 % more power for other planned integrated down stream processes, domestic use or sold to other consumers of power.

Power Plant Operation In A Typical Palm Oil Mill

The operation of power plants within a palm oil mill is not so complex. These plants are normally staffed by local steam drivers and engineers. A typical 60 tons FFB per hour mill operating about 20 h a day. A total of 23% by weight EFB (empty fruit bunches) or 13.8 tons of EFB per hour is sent back to the estate to be used as mulch in the elds. The fuel produced from the waste comes from: Shell amounting to 6%, out of which about 30% is dry enough to be used as boiler fuel, or 1 ton/h and Fibre amounting to 14% or 8.4 ton/h

The power requirement of the mill is 15e17 kW per ton FFB or 1,020 kW for a 60 tons FFB per hour mill.
This is typically met by a non-condensing turbine using steam with a pressure of 21-bar gauge and exhausting at 3bar gauge. The size of the generator is about 1.2 MW. When the mill is not in service, a diesel generator takes over to supply security lighting and domestic supply. Two units are usually installed: one of 800 kW and another of 250 kW. In a mill break down which may last a while, the large diesel generator will be operated to supply power to some plants in the nut station, effluent plant, water works, lighting etc.

The diesel generating sets are not required if the mill is close to the national electricity board grid and is connected to it.

New schemes for grid-connected power plants under the small renewable energy programme involve the construction of boilers burning EFB and producing up to 10 MW of power, which can be sold to the national electricity board. It is predicted that such a plant will serve several mills.
Another concept is to produce methane gas from POME, and burning the gas in boilers, gas engines or gas turbines. It has been shown that such plants can meet the power and steam needs of the mills and still allow power export.