Production Of Palm Oil Biology Essay


Planning Phase for the development of new plantations would involve the conduct for feasibility studies and an environment impact assessment (EIA) if the area to be developed is primary or secondary forest in excess of 500 hectares. An EIA is also required if the development involves changes in the types of agricultural use of land in excess of 500 hectares.

Nursery Establishment commences as soon as the land is found to be suitable and approved by the respective agencies for development to proceed. Good quality DxP seedlings are raised in a polybag nursery for about 12 months. Good nursery practices such as adequate watering, manuring and culling of seedlings with undesirable characteristics are essential for the production of vigorous planting materials. A culling rate of up to 25% is commonly practised in well managed nurseries.

Site Preparation include land survey, clearing of existing vegetation, establishment of a road and field drainage system, soil conservation measures such as terracing, conservation bunds and silt pits and sowing of leguminous cover crops. From the early 1990s, the zero burning technique for land clearing, from logged-over forest areas and replanting from various plantation crops.

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Field Establishment activities are lining, holing and planting of polybag oil palm seedlings at density of 136 to 148 palms per ha, depending on the soil type. It is important that effort is made to obtain full ground coverage by leguminous cover crops such as Pueraria javanica & Calopogonium caeruleum to minimise soil loss through runoff as well as to improve the soil properties through nitrogen fixation.


Immature oil palm with full cover of leguminous cover crops

Field Maintenance operations include weeding, water management, pruning, pest and disease management and manuring. Integrated pest management involving a mix of cultural, physical, chemical and biological control approaches to minimise crop losses to pests is commonly adopted in plantations. Examples of biological control measures applied include the use of Baculovirus and Metarhizium Anisopliae to control the rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros), control of leaf-eating bagworms and nettle caterpillars by their natural predators and parasitoids and the use of barn owls (Tyto alba) as the biological agent to control rats. (Golden Hope Plantations Berhad,1997). As the cost of fertilisers is the major component of field upkeep expenditure, plantation companies generally undertake soil and foliar analyses of individual fields regularly to assess their nutritional status and determine the appropriate types and quantities of fertilisers required for optimal palm development and production.

Barn owls for rat control Harvesting of FFB Tractor mounted 'grabber'

Harvesting and Collection

Harvesting of FFB commences between 24 to 30 months after field planting, depending on the soil type and agronomic and management inputs. Harvesting is done manually, using a chisel in young palms and a sickle mounted on a bamboo or aluminium pole in taller palms. Various systems for in-field collection of FFB and transportation to the palm oil mill. In view of increasing shortage of workers as well as the need to increase worker productivity, mechanised approaches have been adopted by plantations, an example being the tractor-mounted 'grabber'

Replanting. The economic cycle of the oil palm is about 25 years, after which the old stand is replanted. The zero burning technique of replanting is now common commercial practice. However, in some situations, plantations consider under-planting, whereby new seedlings are planted under the old palms which are thinned out progressively to allow the development of the new stand. MANUFACTURING PROCESS FOR OIL PALM

Oil winning process in general, involves, the reception of fresh fruit bunches from the plantations, sterilizing and threshing of the bunches to free the palm fruit, mashing the fruit and pressing out the crude palm oil. The crude oil is further treated to purify and dry it to storage and export.


Bunch reception

Fresh fruit arrives from the field as bunches or loose fruit. The fresh fruit is normally emptied into wooden boxes suitable for weighing on a scale so that quantities of fruit arriving at the processing site may be checked. Large installations use weighbridges to weigh materials in trucks. The quality standard achieved is initially dependent on the quality of bunches arriving at the mill. The mill cannot improve upon this quality but can prevent or minimise further deterioration. The field factors that affect the composition and final quality of palm oil are genetic, age of the tree, agronomic, environmental, harvesting technique, handling and transport. Many of these factors are beyond the control of a small-scale processor. Perhaps some control may be exercised over harvesting technique as well as post-harvest transport and handling.

Threshing ( removal of fruit from the bunches )

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The fresh fruit bunches consist of fruit embedded in spikelet growing on a main stem. There are two ways to do threshing. Firstly, it can be done manually by cutting the fruit laden spikelet from the bunch stem with an axe or machete and then separating the fruits from the spikelet by hand. Secondly, threshing can be done mechanically by mechanised system which rotating a drum or fixed drum equipped with rotary beater bar detaches the fruit from the brunch, leaving the spikelet on the stem. For small-scale processors which do not have the capacity to generate steam for sterilization, the threshed fruits are cooked in water. Whole bunches which include spikelet absorb a lot of water in the cooking process. High-pressure steam is more effective in heating bunches without losing much water. Therefore, most small-scale operations thresh bunches before the fruits are cooked, while high-pressure sterilization systems thresh bunches after heating to loosen the fruits. Small-scale operators use the bunch waste (empty bunches) as cooking fuel. In larger mills the bunch waste is incinerated and the ash, a rich source of potassium, is returned to the plantation as fertilizer.

Sterilization of bunches

Sterilization (cooking) means the use of high temperature wet-heat treatment of loose fruit. Sterilization normally uses the pressurised of steam. Purposes for sterilization are:

For large-scale installations, where bunches are cooked whole, the wet heat weakens the fruit stem and makes it easy to remove the fruit from bunches on shaking or tumbling in the threshing machine.

Fruit cooking weakens the pulp structure, softening it and making it easier to detach the fibrous material and its contents during the digestion process. The high heat is to partially disrupt the oil-containing cells in the mesocarp and permits oil to be released more readily.

The moisture introduced by the steam acts chemically to break down gums and resins. When broken down by wet steam (hydrolysis), they can be removed during oil clarification. Starches present in the fruit are hydrolysed and removed in this way.

When high-pressure steam is used for sterilization, the heat causes the moisture in the nuts to expand. As the pressure is reduced, the contraction of the nut leads to the detachment of the kernel from the shell wall, thus loosening the kernels within their shells. This greatly facilitates later nut cracking operations.

However, during sterilization it is important to ensure evacuation of air from the sterilizer. Air acts as a barrier to heat transfer and oil oxidation increases considerably at high temperatures; hence oxidation risks are high during sterilization. Over-sterilization can lead to poor bleach ability of the resultant oil. Sterilization is also the chief factor responsible for the discolouration of palm kernels, leading to poor bleach ability of the extracted oil.

Digestion of fruit

Digestion is the process of releasing the palm oil in the fruit through the rupture or breaking down of the oil-bearing cells. The digester consists of a steam-heated cylindrical vessel fitted with a central rotating shaft carrying a number of beater (stirring) arms. Through the action of the rotating beater arms the fruit is pounded. Pounding, or digesting the fruit at high temperature, helps to reduce the viscosity of the oil, destroys the fruits' outer covering (excerpt), and completes the disruption of the oil cells already begun in the sterilization phase. Unfortunately, for reasons related to cost and maintenance, most small-scale digesters do not have the heat insulation and steam injections that help to maintain their contents at elevated temperatures during this operation. Contamination from iron is greatest during digestion when the highest rate of metal wear is encountered in the milling process. Iron contamination increases the risk of oil oxidation and the onset of oil rancidity.

Pressing (Extracting the palm oil)

There are two methods to do the extracting of palm oil. Firstly, is by a mechanical press which is called 'dry' method. In the 'dry' method the objective of the extraction stage is to squeeze the oil out of a mixture of oil, moisture, fibre and nuts by applying mechanical pressure on the digested mash. Secondly, is called 'wet' method using hot water. There are a large number of different types of presses but the principle of operation is similar for each. The presses may be designed for batch (small amounts of material operated upon for a time period) or continuous operations.

Batch presses

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The material is placed in heavy metal cage and a metal plunger is used to press the material. The plunger can be moved manually or motor. However, the motorised method is more expensive. There are two type of press machine to move plunger: spindle press and hydraulic press. Hydraulic presses are faster than spindle screw types and powered presses are faster than manual types. Some types of manual press require considerable effort to operate and do not alleviate drudgery.

Continuous system

Digested fruit is continuously conveyed through the cage towards an outlet restricted by a cone, which creates the pressure to expel the oil through the cage perforations (drilled holes). Oil-bearing cells that are not ruptured in the digester will remain unopened if a hydraulic or centrifugal extraction system is employed. Screw presses, due to the turbulence and kneading action exerted on the fruit mass in the press cage can effectively break open the unopened oil cells and release more oil. These presses act as an additional digester and are efficient in oil extraction.

Clarification and drying of oil

Clarification is to separate the oil from its entrained impurities. The fluid produced from the press is a mixture of palm oil, water, cell debris, fibrous material and non-oily solids. The non-oily solid make the mixture become very thick. However, the hot water is added into the mixture to thin it. The addition of water produced a barrier that cause the heavy solids to fall to the bottom of the container while the lighter oil droplets flow through the water mixture to the top when heat is applied. Water is added in ratio of 3:1.

To remove the coarse fibre, the diluted mixture must be passed through a screen. The screened mixture is boiled from one or two hours and then allowed to settle by gravity in the large tank so that the palm oil, being lighter than water, will separate and rise to the top. The clear oil is decanted into a reception tank. This clarified oil still contains traces of water and dirt.

Oil storage

The purified and dried oil is transferred to the tank for storage prior to dispatch from the mill. The oil is stored with a maintain temperature around 50° C by using hot water or low pressure steam heating coils to prevent from the solidification and fractionation.

Kernel recovery

The disposed from the press consists of mixture of fibre and palm nuts. The recovered fibre and nutshells put into the steam boilers. The super-heated steam is then used to drive turbines to generate electricity for the mill. For this reason it makes economic sense to recover the fibre and to shell the palm nuts. In the large-scale kernel recovery process, the nuts contained in the press cake are separated from the fibre in a depericarper. They are then dried and cracked in centrifugal crackers to release the kernels. The kernels are normally separated from the shells using a combination of winnowing and hydro cyclones. The kernels are then dried in silos to a moisture content of about 7 percent before packing.

Summary of unit operations

Unit operation



Fruit fermentation

To loosen fruit base from spikelets and to allow ripening processes to abate


Bunch chopping

To facilitate manual removal of fruit


Fruit sorting

To remove and sort fruit from spikelets


Fruit boiling

To sterilize and stop enzymatic spoilage, coagulate protein and expose microscopic oil cells


Fruit digestion

To rupture oil-bearing cells to allow oil flow during extraction while separating fibre from nuts


Mash pressing

To release fluid palm oil using applied pressure on ruptured cellular contents


Oil purification

To boil mixture of oil and water to remove water-soluble gums and resins in the oil, dry decanted oil by further heating


Fibre-nut separation

To separate de-oiled fibre from palm nuts.


Second Pressing

To recover residual oil for use as soap stock


Nut drying

To sun dry nuts for later cracking

From the box-plot diagram, the production of is skewed to the left. Nevertheless, the production follows a normal distribution. Also, we can see that there is an outlier in which the production is nearly 2000000 tonnes.

Low production can be noticed at several months in these two years. It's good if the actual production is located in a predictable range. Unfortunately, there are some occasions where the production lies in an unexpected region. Therefore, a control chart is being drawn to determine which month of its production deviates a lot compared to the forecast one.

From the analysis above, large deviation happened at the near end of year 2009, at the month of October in 2009. Therefore, possible reasons are listed and shown in the Cause-and-Effect diagram attached:

After detailed researches being done, we found out that reasons for production differ a lot than expected are mainly due to environmental effects and the volatility of the global economy. For the latter case, among the sources of uncertainty is about national policies concerning national policies concerning production support, import/export measure and stock available. Global recession spread worldwide in year 2009. Many governments start cutting their budgets to reduce their deficits. For instance, different policies are being introduced in each country, to protect the local developers, apart from implementing tighter rules on the imported palm oil. Purchases by China, European Union and India (which together account for half of global imports) are anticipated to fall by, respectively, 6, 3 and 10 percent, owing to improvements in domestic oilcrop production and relatively ample stock positions.

(a) (b)

Chart (a), the amount of oils/fats being imported in each country has decreased in the session 2008/2009. However, after 3rd quarter of 2009, global oils and meals consumption remained relatively robust in spite of the global economic recession, a development that resulted in record-low stock levels. Production of palm oil by then has increased rapidly and therefore anticipated to exceed demand for the following months. In addition to that, palm oil productions also influenced by a lot of competitions. Chart (b) indicates that Indonesia gradually has surpassed Malaysia as the main exporter for oil (palm oil). Malaysia faces competition from different countries, different oil crops, and crude oils. Near end of every year, large soybean oil supplies coming out of South America also reduces the demand of oils from palm trees. In the petroleum sector, petroleum price do influence palm oil price. However, from the charts below, the petroleum price does not influence the palm oil production.

Therefore, in terms of economy, palm oil production is not affected by petroleum alone, but the global market demand.

Another reason is due to changes of temperature on the surfaces in several parts of Malaysia in May/Dec 2009. It seems that El Nino induce impact on the Malaysian Palm Oil production. This is a biological cycle in some parts of Malaysia and in September 2009 in other parts.

From the diagram above, it could be seen that the temperature around Malaysia, Sabah & Sarawak especially, is quite high in the period of September to October 2009, due to El-Niño effect. What is more, there is a big difference of amount of rainfall in certain area where palm oil trees are planted. From the diagram below, we could see that rainfall in October is more than the one in September.

C:\Users\ehneoh\Desktop\sep 2009.jpg C:\Users\ehneoh\Desktop\oct 2009.jpg

C:\Users\ehneoh\Desktop\sep2 2009.jpg C:\Users\ehneoh\Desktop\oct2 2009.jpg

Apart from that, smoke hazes that start around August 2009 also contribute to the high temperature of the region and hence the unpredictable production of palm oil.

From the charts above, we can see that smoke haze occurred in North West of Borneo and southern part of Peninsular of Malaysia. However, these places consist of huge portion of plantation land in Malaysia and thus affecting the production of palm oil.

In conclusion, the global economy is unpredictable for certain times such as when global recession occurs. Also, weather is an element in which can't be forecasted precisely as it is subjected to many factors outside of human control.