I used to be a wastewater engineer, visiting palm oil mills to carry out tests on their wastewater and determine if the amout of biogas/methane/greenhouse gas is sufficient for my organsiation to develop a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project there. Things were going well until the price of carbon dropped to a ridiculous level, which caused me to lose my job till now. I thought I'd share something short about the industry I was with through photos I've taken during work. Here goes...
Palm oil is increasingly becoming a common cooking ingredient for domestic and commercial use nowadays. The oil is extracted
from the fruit of the oil palm tree which thrives in the tropics. Indonesia is now the biggest producer for palm oil followed by Malaysia.
Cultivation of the tree takes about 3 years before the oil palm tree starts to bear fruit. It begins with seedlings raised in a nursery for about 1
year before being transplanted to the field. Once transplanted, it would take another 2 years before the tree starts bearing fruits.
Fruits of the oil palm vary in size and weight (from 5 – 50kg per fruit) depending on the maturity of the tree. Since each fruit contain many individual fruitlets, the fruit itself is called a Fresh Fruit Bunch (FFB).
FFBs are harvested manually using a chisel or sickle. Once harvested, the FFBs are sent to the mill for oil extraction within 24 hours. Here, the fruits are cooked at high pressure chambers before being stripped from their stalks and pressed mechanically for oil. Typically, about 22kg of palm oil is extracted from 100kg of FFBs.
The oil is then stored in large tanks before dispatched to palm oil refineries. Stalks of the stripped bunches however, are either sent to the landfill for disposal or used as compost fertilizer in the oil palm estates.
Production of palm oil has been widely associated with environmental damage. Opening of oil palm plantations have caused severe impacts such as deforestation and habitat loss. Wastewater from the production of palm oil has been associated with the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
To address the problems, the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil was set up with an objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil. Producers of palm oil are also looking into ways to capture and utilise the greenhouse gases for energy generation through methods of the CDM.
Photo credits: Tan Kian Yong.