Palm Oil Produced From A Fern Like Plant Biology Essay


Lusciously, palm oil produced from a fern like plant called the oil palm tree. The oil extracted from the outer soft, fleshy portion of the fruit and palm kernel oil extracted from the inner seed portion of the palm tree fruit. In addition, palm oil has many beneficial properties where the extract is full of olefins, a potentially valuable chemical group that can be processed into many non-food products as well. Furthermore, the natural oil also has the largest slice of the world vegetable oil market of 28%.

Moreover, palm oil is a primary substitute for rapeseed oil in Europe, which is experiencing high levels of demand for bio-diesel fuel production purposes. In addition, the palm tree fruit extract is the most productive energy crop the world has. One hectare of oil palm plantation has the capacity to produce nearly 6,000 liters of crude bio-diesel. In comparison, soybeans and corn generates only about 400 and 200 liters per hectare, respectively. Therefore, palm oil plantation is more profitable business than any other crops.

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In 2008, Malaysia produced 17.7 million tons of palm oil on 4.5 million hectares of land. While Malaysia's palm oil production is less than Indonesia, it is still the largest exporter of palm oil in the world. About 60% of palm oil shipments from Malaysia head to China, the European Union, Pakistan, United States and India. They are mostly made into cooking oil, margarine, specialty fats, and oleo-chemicals.

The palm trees can be grown on sunny tropical region. Most plantation lands are cleared through administering the slash-and burn technique. Palm trees are very versatile and are the highest yielding oilseed crop. For fresh fruit yield, for every 10 tons of palm oil, about 1 tone of palm kernel oil can be obtained. The countries that produce the crudest palm oil are from Southeast Asia mainly Malaysia and Indonesia. Together, both countries account for about 80 % of the world's production.

Malaysia is the single largest producer with more than 50 percent of the world's production, while Indonesia follows with almost 30 percent of global production. Between 1960 and 2000, global palm oil production increased 10 fold from 2 million tons in 1960 to 24 million tons in 2000. As the largest producer and exporter of palm oil and palm oil products, Malaysia has an important role to play in fulfilling the growing global needs for oils and fats in general.

The world commercial marketing as Malaysia is the largest producer and exporter of palm oil. The chart distribution below shows the world's biggest exporter of palm oil, Malaysia accounted for 15.14 million tons (26.2%) of the global oils, and fats trade in 2007. In 2008, Malaysia produced 17.7 million tons of palm oil on 4.5 million hectares of land.

Figure 1.1 : World exporter of palm oil in 2007

(Oil World, 2008)

Malaysia recently began turning up its campaign to fight misinformation against palm oil production in a series of forums in the United States. Successfully, the government has pointed out the unfair calculation of carbon emissions for palm oil based on comparisons with carbon stocks of the pristine rain forests as the starting point.

Moreover, palm oil is a natural raw material that can be used almost anywhere and thus one of the most popular agricultural commodities. The versatile oil has been used from washing liquids and soap to margarine and cosmetics production. Almost every consumables product contains palm oil. In the European countries, the crude palm is also a primary substitute for rapeseed oil.

On the other hand, growing global demand for edible oils and animal proteins in the last decade or two had resulted in a tremendous increase in the areas under oil crops cultivation, particularly of soybean and oil palm. In the last six years, world production of soybean had increased 47% to satisfy the market for animal feed (soybean meal) and edible oils. Most of the increased production came from countries in South America.

In detail, the four main soybean growing countries comprising Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay recorded a 92% increase in production and 66% increase in planted area in the past six years. The current area under soybean cultivation is about 30 million hectares (AID Environment & Profundo, 2002).

Hence, world production of palm oil, the most widely traded edible oil, has also seen significant leaps in production and planted areas, production had almost doubled from 1990 to 2001, with Malaysia and Indonesia contributing to most of the increased production. This has been achieved mainly by opening a new land for oil palm plantations.

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In Malaysia, the area planted with the crop had increased from 2.03 million hectares in 1990 to 3.50 million hectares in 2001, an increase of 172%. In Indonesia, 1.8 million hectares have been planted with oil palm from 1990 to 1999 (Wakker, 2000: cited in Teoh, 2002).

Consequently, the rapid expansion of both crops had resulted in the conversion of High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs) in South America, including parts of the Amazon and in South-East Asia. It has been estimated that about an average of 200,000 hectares of forestland had been converted annually from 1990 to 1999 in Indonesia, the actual rate varying from about 150,000 to more than 250,000 hectares per year (Wakker, 2000: citied in Teoh, 2002).

In addition, as world production of palm oil and soy oil is expected to continue to increase at the current pace, there is a growing concern that this expansion would result in conversion of a large proportion of the remaining HCVFs in the tropics. Several studies have been undertaken to gain a better understanding of the issues pertaining to forest conversion and the edible oils sector. This study focuses on the supply chain of the palm oil industry in Malaysia.

1.2 Palm Oil Production

In 2001, the world's production of palm oil was 23.18 million tones or 19.8% of the total production of 17 oils and fats, making it the second most important oil after soy oil. Palm oil has achieved impressive growth in production and exports in the last few decades; production had doubled from 1990 to 2001.

In terms of exports, palm oil is the most widely traded oil, accounting for 45.6% of the world's exports of 17 oils and fats in 2001 (, 2009) Malaysia is the largest producer of palm oil, contributing about 11.80 million tons or 50.9% of total production, while Indonesia produced about 7.5 million tons or 32.3%. Malaysia is also the world's largest exporter of palm oil, accounting for about 61.1% or 10.62 million tons of the total exports of 17.37 million tons in 2001.

Table 1.1 : World Production of Palm Oil ('000 tons)

Country of Origin






























Cote d'IVoire


















Papua New Guinea


















(Oil World and MPOB, 2008)

Table 1.2: World Major Exporters of Palm Oil ('000 tons)

Country of Origin


















Papua New Guinea






Cote d'IVoire












Hong Kong


















(Oil World and MPOB, 2008)

World production of palm oil was projected to double from 2000 to 2020 with a total production exceeding 40 million tons. The main growth is expected from Indonesia, which could become the world's leading producer by 2015. However, in view of the political and socio-economic turmoil that followed the Asian financial crisis, it is uncertain if the projected targets could be achieved.

With the rapid expansion in the planted area, the annual production of palm in Malaysia had increased significantly in Malaysia; the crude palm oil (CPO) produced in 2001 was 11.8 million tons which was 4.6 times the volume produced in 1980. The increase in production in Sabah was particularly impressive, reflecting the aggressive planting policy in the state and it became the largest CPO producer in 1999. In 2001, Sabah accounted for 31.5% of the national production. Other major CPO producing states are Johor, Pahang and Perak in Peninsular Malaysia.

Table 1.3 : Projected Production of Palm Oil (2000-2020) (million tons)




World Total

Annual Production


10,100 (49.3%)

6,700 (32.7%)



10,700 (48.1%)

7,720 (34.7%)


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10,980 (48.4%)

7,815 (34.5%)



11,050 (47.7%)

8,000 (34.6%)



10,900 (45.6%)

8,700 (36.4%)



11,700 (45.6%)

9,400 (36.6%)


Five-year Averages

1996 - 2000

9,022 (50.3%)

5,445 (30.4%)


2001 - 2005

11,066 (47.0%)

8,327 (35.4%)


2006 - 2010

12,700 (43.4%)

11,400 (39.0%)


2011 - 2015

14,100 (40.2%)

14,800 (42.2%)


2016 - 2020

15,400 (37.7%)

18,000 (44.1%)


(Oil World and MPOB, 2008)

Table 1.3 shows the percentage of world total production. The distribution of production in 2001 is rapidly increased within these 8 years. The table 1.4 shows the production of Crude Palm Oil in Malaysia (Tons).

Table 1.4 : Production of Crude Palm Oil in Malaysia (Tons)




































(Oil World and MPOB, 2008)




P. Pinang




N. Sembilan


Kedah & Perlis


Figure 1.2 : Production of Crude Palm Oil States in 2001

(Oil World and MPOB, 2008)

As the palm oil plantations covering more than 700,000 hectares, Sabah is the largest producer of crude palm oil in the whole of Malaysia contributing about 25% of the total production of crude palm oil in the country.

Figure 1.3 : Sabah Production of Palm Oil

1.3 Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME)

Raw POME is a colloidal suspension containing 95-96% water, 0.6-0.7% oil and 4-5% total solids including 2-4% suspended solids that are mainly consisted of debris from palm fruit mesocarp generated from three main sources, namely sterilizer condensate, separator sludge and hydrocyclone wastewater. For a well-controlled conventional mill, about 0.9, 1.5 and 0.1m3 wastewater are generated from sterilizer condensate, separator sludge and hydrocyclone wastewater, respectively, for each ton of crude palm oil produced.

In the year 2004, more than 40 million tonnes of POME was generated from 372 mills in Malaysia. If the effluent is discharged untreated, it can certainly cause considerable environmental problems due to its high biochemical oxygen demand (25,000 mg/l), chemical oxygen demand (53,630 mg/l), oil and grease (8370 mg/l), total solids (43,635 mg/l) as well as suspended solids (19,020 mg/l). Therefore, the palm oil mill industry in Malaysia is identified as the one that produces the largest pollution load into the rivers throughout the country. The discharge of untreated POME though creates adverse impact to the environment, the notion of nurturing POME and its derivatives as valuable resources should not be dismissed.

This is because POME contains high concentrations of protein, carbohydrate, nitrogenous compounds, lipids and minerals that may be converted into useful materials using microbial processes. Several studies have been reported on the exploitation of POME and its derivative as fermentation media to produce antibiotic and bioinsecticide, solvents, polyhydroxyalkanoates, organic acids as well as enzymes. There is an urgent need to find a compromising way that will enable the balance between the environmental protection and sustainable reuse of the nutrient sources found in the POME.

The current treatment system, which is based mainly on biological treatments of anaerobic and aerobic systems, is quite inefficient and this unfortunately leads to the environmental pollution issues. Moreover, the nutrient sources available in the POME cannot be effectively reused as a substrate in the fermentation after the conventional treatment process has been adopted.

However, the rapid development of the industry has had serious consequences on the natural environment, which mainly related to water pollution due to a large discharge of untreated or partially treated palm oil mill effluent (POME) into watercourses. In the year 2004, more than 40 million tones of POME was generated from 372 mills in Malaysia (Yacob et al, 2006). Therefore, the palm oil mill industry in Malaysia is identified as the one that produces the largest pollution load into the rivers throughout the country (Hwang et al, 1978).

It is acidic with pH 4-5 and discharged at temperature about 80-90°C. Although the effluent is non toxic, it has a very high concentration of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) (i.e. 25 000 mg/L) which becomes a serious threat to aquatic life when discharged in relatively large quantities into watercourses. Furthermore, POME contributes 83% of the industrial organic pollution load in Malaysia (Vigneswaran et al, 1999).

The most common practice for POME treatment nowadays is by biological processes in which based on anaerobic and aerobic pond system. However, biological treatment systems need proper maintenance and monitoring as the processes rely solely on microorganisms to break down the pollutants. Many palm oil mills which apply the biological treatment system failed to comply with the Department of Environment (DOE) standard discharge limits.

Therefore, the pre-treatment of POME using coagulation and flocculation processes has become an important feature, in order to efficiently reduce the organic load prior to subsequent treatment processes. Aluminium sulphate (alum), an inorganic salt, is the most widely used coagulant in wastewater treatment, due to its proven performance, cost-effectiveness and availability. However, the used of aluminium-based coagulant has become under scrutiny.

Besides the large amount of sludge produced, high level of aluminium remained in the treated water has raised concern on public health (Driscoll and Letterman, 1995). Previous research have pointed out that intake of large amount of aluminium salt may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer disease (Pontius, 2000). Alternatively, an environmental friendly coagulant such as chitosan can be developed and used nowadays.

If the POME is discharged untreated, the amount of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) produced in year 2008 was 1.108 million tones. By estimating, each citizen produces 14.6 kg of BOD every year (Doorn et al., 2006); this pollution load is equivalent to the waste generated by 75 million people, which is about thrice the population of Malaysia.

Currently, the majority of palm oil mills have adopted conventional biological treatment of anaerobic or facultative digestion, which needs large treatment area and long treatment periods (80-120 days). In addition, the microorganisms, which are the COD and BOD digester, require intensive care, as they are sensitive to the surrounding temperature and pH.

Thus, skilled and experienced workers are needed for complete maintenance and control to ensure the biological treatment is implemented in an order manner. High content of suspended solids and organic matters in the effluent discharge can cause severe pollution of waterways due to oxygen-depletion and other related effects. The typical POME characteristics are shown in Table 1.5 (All parameter's units in mg/L except pH).


Concentration (mg/L)



Oil and grease


Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD)


Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD)


Total solids


Suspended solids


Total Volatile solids


Ammoniacal nitrogen


Total nitrogen




















2.3Table 1.5 : Characteristics of palm oil mill effluent

(Ma, 2000; Chow, 1991)

1.4 Palm Oil for Bio-diesel

Generally, the use of palm oil-based biodiesel is increasing due to strong production growth in tropical countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Nigeria and Colombia. Palm oil is a promising feedstock for biodiesel production because of its low cost and high productivity per unit of planted area (Rojas, 2007). Palm oil biodiesel, also known as palm oil methyl ester (PME), differs from other types of biodiesel in its grade of molecule unsaturation. PME is more saturated, which means it has a lower number of double carbon bonds in its molecules. For diesel engine applications, the degree of biodiesel molecule unsaturation represents a compromise. Saturated fuels such as PME have high-ignition quality. However, they also harden at higher temperatures, making them difficult to use in cold weather.

Since biodiesel is derived from renewable sources, its production and use are being promoted worldwide as a way to reduce oil dependency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Due to PME's rising importance as a biodiesel feedstock, it's important to consider its combustion and operational performance.

In Europe, there is a high demand on crude palm oil for bio-diesel purposes. Many major producers are investing heavily in the refineries needed for the process to convert crude palm into bio-diesel. Due to the current high prices of fossil crude oil, bio-diesel is deemed as the alternative fuel source to gasoline for vehicles.

However in Malaysia, the government have been targeting on using palm oil for bio-diesel since 2008. Malaysia as the world's second largest producer of crude palm oil (CPO) has implemented mandates for biodiesel and will give aid to the industry to replant as part of the package of measures to boost demand for CPO and curtail oversupply (Bernama, 2008). In addition, back to the year of 2006, Malaysia took the lead in developing Asia's biodiesel industry and granted licenses to more than 90 companies to set up plants with visions of introducing palm biodiesel into the domestic fuel market. Therefore, the government had planned to introduce the bio-diesel in stages within central Peninsular Malaysia in 2011 (Bernama, 2010).

1.5 Edible Oil for Food Production

Palm oil is an important and versatile raw material for both food and non-food industries. It contributes to the economic development of the producing countries and to the diets of millions of people around the world. The oil is approximately 50% saturated fat and 50% unsaturated fat.

Due to such a unique characteristic palm oil may be separated under controlled thermal conditions into two components, a solid form (palm stearin) and a liquid form (palm olein). Palm oil is often used in healthy organic foods since the only other solid organic fats are highly saturated butter and coconut oil.

1.6 Problem Statements

There are a few problems regarding the use of water by the plant where fresh water is used too much during the operation. Hence, there are also inefficiencies of wastewater recovery and treatment. Furthermore, the researcher also indicated the poor wastewater management where the water used by the factory was not distributed properly. In addition, the researcher also had assessed the bad quality of the half-treated water.

Therefore, the researcher believes that are very important to incorporate water footprint assessment in order to manage the wastewater efficiently. Plus, by using water footprint assessment, the researcher assures that it will be more economic and increasingly stringent environmental regulations.

1.7 Objectives

The research objectives are to make sure that the water used in palm oil mill recycled after the plant operation. In addition, this research also aims to optimize the usage of the water footprint in palm oil mill in order to prevent the water use unwisely by the factory. Furthermore, the researcher also set a goal to minimize the usage of fresh water by the plant as the water used is recycled. Besides, to present possible techniques to reduce the freshwater demand and wastewater generation for palm oil mill and to apply the 3R concept in the palm oil mill.

1.8 Research Questions

Based on the research, a few question need to be answered regarding water footprint assessment in palm oil mill. The questions are :-

Does the water footprint assessment can determine the total use of water supply in each of the equipment?

Does the boiler become the main user of the water supplied?

1.9 Operational Definition

1.9.1 Water Footprint

A water footprint is a measure of the total water used to produce goods and services that a particular individual, business or nation uses. It is made up of two components: direct water use and indirect use. The indirect water use is measured as 'virtual' water (the volume of water required to produce a certain product). It includes use of blue water (rivers, lakes, aquifers), green water (rainfall in crop growth), and grey water (water polluted after agricultural, industrial and household use). 

In this context of research, water footprint is the total volume of freshwater used to produce the goods and services consumed by the equipments and units of the plant.

1.9.2 Water Assessment

In this context of research, water assessment is the method to indicate the water footprint from the first feed of water source until the end of the mill operation. This method been conducted by observing the water used in each of the equipment that required water to operate.

The main reason why water footprint assessment is needed as to look after our fresh water from be short of, such as river. As the researcher find out that the palm oil mill operation only used the source of water without give it back directly to the source. Besides, it needed to increase stringent environmental regulations and economic consideration. Finally, the public concern for the quality of the environment and how important to think about due to the expansion of water used.

1.10 Conclusion

This chapter had successfully discussed about the overview of the research subject which is palm oil mill in the perspective of the use, world market contribution and palm oil production. In addition, the researcher also indicated the future of the palm oil as a bio-diesel which will be slowly used across the nation in 2011. This chapter also explained about the problems that the researcher found in wastewater management in palm oil mill. Furthermore, this first chapter also stated the objectives of the research and the questions that need to be answered at the end of this research.



2.1 Introduction

Water, the very essential element to life is drying up in many parts of the world. In the United Nations' report on world water resource in 2006, more than 10 billion of the world's population lack of enough safe water to support basic needs and 40% of the people has no access to basic hygiene infrastructure. Problems like water shortages, deterioration of water quality and environmental constraints, have led to an increased interest of recovering and recycling water in many parts of the world.

Furthermore, plantation companies often dump palm oil-mill effluent directly into water bodies, which sometimes-disastrous results. River water turns brown, smelly and slimy. Fish and other aquatic animals are killed, and local people can no longer use the water for drinking, bathing, or fishing. In one incident in 2003, the Jakarta Post reported that palm oil waste dumped by a large Indonesian company, PT London Sumatera, killed thousands of fish and contaminated the Itam River. In another reported incident in that year, thousands of fish died in the Kuning River in Sumatra due to palm oil effluent. Compared to Indonesia, Malaysian environmental regulations may be somewhat more strictly enforced, but problems are still widespread.

On the other hand, Malaysia is still the world's biggest exporter of quality palm oil with revenue of RM65 billion last year (2008) where the water used is beyond than one can imagine. According to Datuk Dr. Mohd Basri Wahid, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) General Director, Malaysia was known for its high quality palm oil compared to other exporting countries. Therefore, Malaysia leads the world as the exporter quality palm oil even Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil (Bernama, 2009).

In order to ensure that the palm oil industry continues to stay resilient and competitive at the global level, all concerned should together maintain the good image and reputation of Malaysia's high quality palm oil as a food source. It was estimated that 75 percent of the total production of the country's palm oil last year of 21.76 million metric tons was exported. In this respect, he said a proactive and quick response to requests and needs of importing countries was very important, particularly in ensuring the quality and the safety of palm oil products being exported. Continuing research as well as new, innovative technology must be supported with the assurance of quality and safety of products through the detection, prevention and quality control at every step of the palm oil supply chain.

On the other hand, Indonesia, the country's closest competitor, has a comparatively bigger area under oil palm cultivation. Malaysia's palm oil industry needs to be competitive at the global level through the assurance of quality and safety for palm oil products. Malaysia's success in controlling the global market for quality palm oil needs to be defended and sustained through the regulatory aspect of the palm oil industry.

Misdeeds involving the industry especially that related to pollution activities will erode the trust and confidence of importing countries on the quality and safety of the country's palm oil products. This achievement shows that greater the accomplishment, the bigger consequences have to been think of. In this case of study, POME is the consequences from the achievement that we have.

In detail, POME is a high volume liquid waste, which is non-toxic, organic in nature but have an unpleasant odor and are highly polluting (Hwang et al., 1978). About 2.5 t of POME are produced for every ton of oil extracted in an oil mill (Ho et al., 1984; Songip et al., 1996). Thus, in year 2008, 17.73 million tons of palm oil production resulted in about 44.33 million tons of POME.

For example, Indonesia produces 13.2 billion pounds of crude palm oil resulted in 33 billion pounds of palm oil effluent in a single year. This amount is equivalent to the domestic sewage produced by 20 million people. On the other hand, Indonesia's production of crude palm oil in 1999 generated as much effluent as one-tenth of the country's total population. However, much of that waste is improperly treated or not treated at all.

Wastewater effluent from palm oil mills is a mixture of water, crushed shells and fat residue resulting from initial processing of crude palm oil from fresh palm fruits, which must be crushed within 24 hours of harvest. There is usually one mill for every 15 to 20 square miles of plantation. Thus, hundreds of mills operate throughout the countryside's of Indonesia and Malaysia. Consequently, palm oil mills with wet milling process are accounted for major production of palm oil in the country and a significantly large quantity of water is used during the extraction of CPO from the Fresh Fruit Bunch (FFB). Therefore, about half of the water used in extraction process will result in POME (Thani et al., 1999).

Specifically, a Water Footprint measures the actual volume of fresh water that a business or manufacturing process of a product or service removes from the eco-system or from other local uses. It takes into consideration the abstraction but also the water flow and losses during the production process as well as the flow back to the eco-system or other users after treatment. A Water Footprint is therefore the volume of water abstracted from local sources minus the volume released in the same place after treatment or directly made available for re-use. Hence, evaluating the measurement against local water stress information allows the footprint impact on local communities or eco-systems to be assessed.

In addition, Borealis findings confirm initial estimates that the manufacturing of polyolefins has a limited direct Water Footprint - ranging from 1.2 to 6.5 liters of fresh water per kilo of finished product. But the indirect Water Footprint originating from feedstock and the source of energy used is more critical and can triple the total Water Footprint of the product.

According to Mark Garrett, Borealis Chief Executive, Water Footprint is a key concept to better assessment and manages impacts on local environments and communities. The company had taken the responbilities towards the environments and communities in which they operate very seriously. Garret also stated that Water Footprint will be a core indicator to advance the sustainability of their operation and products together with carbon and energy measurements.

The Borealis Water Footprint analysis was completed in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Technology of Sweden (KTH), applying the methodologies currently developed by the Water Footprint Network. The direct Water Footprint was calculated on the basis of a detailed review of water flows in manufacturing processes and production sites. It follows a pilot project initiated in August 2008 where Borealis together with its key customer Uponor investigated the Water Footprint of a polyethylene cross linked (PEX) pipe plumbing system for a 100m² apartments. The pilot helped to scope methodological challenges and data gaps requiring more advanced researches.

At that time, Borealis announced it would investigate methodologies and measurement for the plastics industry in coordination with external support from academics and business specialists. As the first plastics company to investigate the Water Footprint methodologies, Borealis is in a unique position to turn them into a manageable tool for the industry. The water footprint analysis is part of Borealis Water for the World programme which underlines the company's commitment to advance best-practices for sustainable water management.

2.3 Palm Oil Mill Effluent Technology

The treatability of POME had been examined by a wide range of technologies and approaches. The most popular one is anaerobic digestion followed by facultative and aerobic treatment (Zinatizadeh 2005). The use of membrane treatment as the final polishing step has also been applied (Ahmad 2003).

2.3.1 Aerobic and Anaerobic Digestion

Conventional biological treatment of anaerobic or aerobic digestion is the most commonly applied method for treatment of different types of wastewater. Anaerobic treatment is the most suitable method for the treatment of effluents containing high concentration of organic carbon.

Anaerobic treatment using up-flow anaerobic sludge fixed film (UASFF) reactor can reduced the COD up to 95% at an average organic loading rate (OLR) of 15g COD/ A 96% COD removal was obtained at an OLR of 10.6g COD/ at an influent COD concentration of 42500 mg/L and hydraulic retention time (HRT) of 4 days (Zinatizadeh, 2005). The hydraulic retention time ranged between 1 and 6 days. Throughout the experiment, the removal efficiency of COD was between 80.6 and 98.6%.

According to Yacob,(2005), the start-up operation used for semi commercial closed anaerobic digester for POME treatment has achieved high percentage removal of COD (up to 97%) and satisfactory ratio of volatile fatty acids: alkalinity (VFA: Alk) between 0.1 and 0.3. This was achieved by creating an active microbial population which was expressed in terms of key performance parameters such as percentage COD removal efficiency, pH, VFA: Alk and hydraulic retention time. The lowest HRT of 17 days was achieved in less than 3 months.

Biological treatment using attached growth on a rotating biological contractor (RBC) was used for the wastewater from palm oil mill industries which contain high strength of organic compounds, COD of about 16000 mg/L (Najafpour, 2005). An acclimated Saccharomyces cerevisiae with POME was used as the initial biomass for the attached growth on bio-discs. After 5 days, 91% BOD removal was achieved in a batch experiment while 88% removal of COD was obtained with 55 h of HRT. High surface COD loading of 38-210 g COD/m2 day was implemented.

Treatment of POME using tropical marine yeast (Yarrowia lypolytica) in a lagoon was studied by Oswal (2002). Palm oil mill effluent (POME), from a factory site in India contained about 25000 mg/L COD, 11000 mg/L BOD, 65 mg/L total dissolved solids and 9000 mg/L of chloroform-soluble material. Treatment of this effluent using Yarrowia lypolytica NCIM 3589, marine hydrocarbon-degrading yeast isolated from Mumbai, India, gave a COD reduction of about 95% with a retention time of two days.

Treatment with a chemical coagulant further reduced the COD and a consortium developed from garden soil clarified the effluent and adjusted the pH to between 6 and 7. The complete treatment reduced the COD content to 1500 mg/L which was 99% reduction from the original.

2.3.2 Membrane Treatment

According to Ahmad (2003), a pilot plant was designed and constructed for POME treatment. Hence, two stages of treatment have been conducted whereby coagulation, sedimentation and adsorption play their roles at the first stage as a membrane pretreatment process. Ultrafiltration (UF) and reverse osmosis (RO) membranes were combined for the membrane separation treatment.

In many European countries, water is recovered by membrane filtration and reused in agricultural irrigation, greenhouse horticulture, cooling processes, food and beverage industries, paper industry, poultry industry and textile industry. The production of high-quality water from such sources possible has been made due to the progress of water reclamation technology.

Consequently, an increasingly significant role as the dominant technology in water purification will be played by membrane process to resolve the matter of insufficient water for sustainable development. In addition, membrane technology will be able to make a great contribution since membranes has the ability to produce water of exceptional purity that can be recycled for reuse in a variety of places (Howell, 2004).

Hence, many parts of Malaysia face a lack of water, although the country has renewable water that is five times per head higher than that in many regions in the world and poor water management is the culprit. The country's per capita renewable water about 5,000 m3 per year compared to many regions in the world that had less than 1,000 m3.

Obviously, this problem was attributed to unsustainable management of water resources rather than to the quantity of water available for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses. Furthermore, water quality issues in Malaysia were expected to become increasingly important as the population continued to grow in the future.

Although, Malaysia is a tropical country having ample of rainfalls, Malaysia has never been a smooth flow of water for even a week. It is not entirely due to drought that has a short supply of water. Urbanization and pollution are main reasons for water stress. Consequently, seven of Malaysia's 146 river basins were categorized as polluted and all the polluted river basins were in Peninsular Malaysia, with Johor topping the list in 2006.

Furthermore, in terms of river basin water quality, 80 river basins (55%) were clean, 59 (40%) slightly polluted and 7 (5%) were polluted. Specifically, the major pollutants were Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), Ammoniacal Nitrogen (NH3-N) and Suspended Solids (SS). High BOD was contributed largely by untreated or partially treated sewage and discharges from agro-based and manufacturing industries. The main sources of NH3-N were domestic sewage and livestock farming, whilst the sources for SS were mostly earthworks and land clearing activities.

Moreover, palm oil production is growing fast in line with the swelling world population and global demand. From the earliest days, oil palm thrives in countries with tropical climate and evenly distributed rainfall. Malaysia and Indonesia have therefore emerged as major producers of palm oil. Malaysia is the largest producer and exporter of palm oil (Latif Ahmad et al., 2003). Similar to other agricultural and industrial activities, palm oil processing had raised environmental issues particularly water pollution which adversely affects aquatic life and domestic water supply.

In addition, we may have some vision of water contribution as the flow through the palm oil mill usual practice by industries. Recently, due to the stringent environmental laws, freshwater stress supply and the wastewater treatment cost had rose and become one of the major problems for palm oil mills.

The palm oil mill industry in Malaysia is identified as the industry that produces the largest pollution load into the river. Palm oil mill effluent is very well known to contain very high BOD more than 25000 mg/L, high oil and grease, and low pH around 4.7. Since, 0.87 ton of effluent is generated with BOD as high as 50000 mg/L (Chungsiriporn, J. Et al., 2006).

Therefore, the water consumption by the factory needs to be reduced in order to prevent water shortage and wastewater treatment problem in palm oil mill. Hence, when less water is used, it will produce less wastewater. This can be done by investigating the differences in process water used between palm oil mills and implement best practice on process water utilization and handling of factory effluents.

One of ways to reduce the intake of freshwater is to reuse and recycle the water within the system in the mill itself. Therefore, the water must be audit to implement these reuse and recycle in order to visualize the water footprint of the water taking from as the beginning the audition. In addition, another alternative way is to improve the mill's wastewater treatment system. Hence, clean water and dirty water from the process or mill should be separated. Moreover, rainwater runoff and water from cleaning operation should not be sent into the factory effluent stream. High content of surfactant in the washing water is the problems causing from cleaning operation as the detergent usage. The present of non-biodegradable might make the settling tank to fail.

According to Latif Ahmad et al. (2003), the latest improvement of development in palm oil mill effluent treatment is based on membrane technology which shows high potential in eliminating environmental problem and also offers water recycling for use as boiler feed water. In the treatments, which are, consists two stages of treatment such as coagulation, sedimentation and adsorption as the first stage of the treatment. For the combined membrane separation treatment, contributes ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis membranes.

Membrane technology is evident that the pretreatment process was able to remove organic matter and suspended solids in POME by 97.9% with a turbidity of 56% in COD and 71% in BOD. The promising results from the prêt treatment process will reduce the membrane fouling phenomenon and degradation in flux for the membrane separation treatment, the turbidity value was reduced to almost 100%, with a 98.8% reduction in COD and 99.4% BOD reduction.

In ensuring that flux and pressure returned to the original values after each treatment, the cleaning procedures were applied. In addition, the treated POME discharge using this membrane treatment technology complies with standard dis-charge regulations. The high-quality treated water can be recycled back to the plant for internal usage such as boiler feed water for sterilization of fresh fruit bunch processing, water for clarification of the extracted crude palm oil or water for hydrocyclone separation of mixture of cracked kernels and shells.


Transfer Tank

Chemical Treatment Tank

UF Feed Tank

UF / RO Membrane

Treated POME

Figure 2.1: Overview of membrane technology

A pilot plant were designed and constructed in a current research, which integrates pretreatment methods and membrane technology (UF and RO) to treat Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME). Another purpose of this research is to recover the treated water to be recycled for internal plant usage such as boiler feed water for the sterilization processes of fresh fruit bunches, water for clarification of the extracted CPO or water for hydrocyclone separation of the cracked mixture of kernels and shells.

The pre-treatment process is necessary to remove high contents of suspended solids and oil in POME that would otherwise severely foul the membrane and lead to a shorter membrane life. The pretreatment processes consist of two stages of chemical treatment and activated carbon treatment for membranes are used to refine the treated water further. After this membrane separation treatment system, the product is suitable for recycling purposes, especially for the boiler feed water.

Moreover, results from the total treatment system show a reduction in turbidity, COD and BOD from 10563 NTU, 26107 mg/L and 15800 mg/L to 0.81 NTU (100% removal), 314 mg/L (98.8% removal) and 91 mg/L (99.4% removal) respectively, with a final pH of 7. Importantly, the results show that this treatment system has a high potential for producing boiler feed water that can be recycled back to the plant.

Membrane separation in wastewater treatment has been widely used and has successfully proven its efficiency in various types of industries. Mameri (2000) successfully reduced the COD to 90% using an organic UF membrane for olive oil washing water. In addition, Sridhar (2002) used RO to treat vegetable oil industry effluent with a resulting high rejection of total dissolved solid (TDS) (99.4%), COD (98.2%) and also complete rejection of colour and BOD.

A combination of microfiltration (MF) and UF membranes has also been used for the treatment of craft spent liquor with more than 80% efficiency in silica rejection (Ahmad 2005). Comparison between POME treatment technologies is shown in Table 2.1. The combination of biological treatment with ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and reverse osmosis membranes in treating municipal wastewater can achieve 97% water recovery (Ahmad 2003).

Table 2.1: Efficiency comparison between POME treatment technologies