Category Archives: 2004 Vol 16 No 1

The oil palm and its sustainability

As the palm oil industry progresses, its many aspects, such as economic, environmental and social benefits from its production are reviewed. More recently, sustainability has received great attention with efforts to integrate it into the palm oil business strategy. In the sustainability framework, the economic (financial), environmental and social aspects are reviewed for their impacts in both the short-and long-terms. The three-pronged strategy of high income, value addition and zero waste is scrutinized as part of the journey towards corporate sustainability. Doing so has once again demonstrated the benefits of the crop in supplying oil to the world.

The paper also puts together the evidence, firstly, that the oil palm can be used as a vehicle for rural poverty eradication in Malaysia and perhaps be used as a model for other countries with similar soils, climate and labour availability. Secondly, that it is a steady supplier of affordable food, non-food, biocomposites, nutritional and pharmaceutical products. And thirdly, that it is a showcase for environmental improvement. For the latter, palm oil mills are fast becoming generators of renewable energy from their biomass and biogas. R&D in these areas have provided new angles for increasing its economic sustainability, moving the industry beyond the current business of just producing palm oil.

Further, new business ventures based on new R&D findings are being set up to look at product sustainability. They include businesses such as in bioplastics, greenness of energy production, savings in fossil fuels, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and production from several new best developed practices, thereby helping the industry to slow down the process of climate change.

Study of mineral nutrient losses from oil palm empty fruit bunches during temporary storage

Depending on the operational organization adopted by a plantation, empty fruit bunches (EFB) fresh from the mill are sometimes stored for a few days, either at the mill exit or on plot edges, before being spread in the field. Exposed to rainfall this way, the heaps are subject to substantial leaching of mineral nutrients. The trial conducted studied the dynamics of mineral nutrient release from a heap of fresh EFB stored in an open area and exposed to the elements. Watering was carried out to top up the rainfall and reach the rainfall levels defined by the protocol. Different storage times were studied over a period of two weeks. Mineral nutrient release was rapid, especially for potassium, magnesium and boron. The release rates varied substantially depending on the nutrient and EFB position in the heap, with a wide range between the top and bottom of the heap, associated with the degree of mineralization. The released mineral nutrients accumulated in the EFB at the bottom of the heap. The most surprising result was the speed with which potassium, the main nutrient contained in EFB, was released: a fortnight into the trial, 73% of the potassium initially contained in the EFB in the upper part of the heap had been released (48% for magnesium and 60% for boron), as opposed to 16% for the EFB at the bottom of the heap. A rapid estimation of financial losses cumulated over a year ‘s production of EFB indicated the foregone earnings for the plantation and revealed the merits of returning EFB to the field immediately on leaving the mill. Any delay in application leads to a significant drop in the agricultural value of fresh EFB

Performance of some pisiferas of Binga, Ekona, URT and Angolan origin: Part 2 – fruit bunch yields vegetative growth and physiological traits

Pisiferas of Binga (Congo), Ekona (Cameroon) and URT origins were progeny tested with Deli, African and African x Deli duras in two trials. The widely used AVROS pisiferas were included as controls. In the first trial, the DxP progenies of an AVROS pisifera gave the highest fruit bunch and oil yields. Two Ekona and one Binga pisifera gave DxP progenies with estimated oil equivalent yields, or EOE (palm oil yield plus 60% of the kernel yield) within 10% of, and not significantly lower than AVROS. The other Binga and all the URT pisiferas tested gave poorer DxP progenies, with generally lower fresh fruit bunch (FFB) yield or bunch oil content or both. In the poorer environment of the second trial, the four best pisiferas were two from Ekona and one each from Binga and URT.

For vegetative growth, URT DxP were the smallest – short with fewer and shorter fronds of small leaf area. The Ekona DxP progenies were the opposite with longer fronds of larger leaf and petiole cross-sectional areas. Although the latter produced similar numbers of fronds in both trials, their rankings by pisiferas differed considerably. The AVROS DxPs were the tallest palms, confirming widespread observation of this characteristic of AVROS. The DxP of the different Binga pisiferas differed considerably for height, trunk diameter, rachis length, petiole cross-sectional and leaf areas but not for frond production for which they were the highest. This intra origin variation was also observed, albeit to a lesser extent, in all the origins but for different traits.

The DxP of Ekona pisiferas produced the most dry matter, whether vegetative or reproductive, those of URT the least while those of Binga varied considerably. Though both the Ekona and AVROS DxP progenies had similar leaf areas, the former with their large petioles had more dry matter supporting it. The progenies of URT pisiferas were low and those of Binga average for leaf area index and leaf area ratio.

Biodegradability and ecotoxicity of palm stearin-based methyl ester sulphonates

The biodegradability of palm stearin-based methyl ester sulphonates (MES) was studied and compared with that of linear alkylbenzene sulphonate (LAS). Palm-based MES was readily biodegradable, degrading faster than LAS. The length of its carbon chain affected its biodegradability – the longer the chain, the lower the biodegradability. The acute fish toxicity of palm-based MES was determined using Tilapia nilotica (a local fish) and compared with LAS and sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS). The toxicity of MES was found to be comparable to those surfactants. The acute toxicity of MES increased with its carbon chain length. Palm-based MES ‘s biodegradability and acute fish toxicity are comparable to or better than the current high volume anionic surfactants and can provide for their replacement in the future.

Water use of irrigated oil palm at three different arid locations in Peninsular India

The water requirement of irrigated oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) in the three Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra were estimated using the Penman-Monteith equation. Microclimate parameters measured using an automated weather station showed that the three geographically separated sites had climatic differences also. The temperature at the study sites ranged between 12 ° C and 35 ° C and the vapour pressure deficit (VPD) of the atmosphere ranged between 0.3 and 4.5 kPa. Stomatal conductance measured on fully irrigated plants showed a maximum of 500 mmol m-2 s-1.The stomatal conductance was highly correlated with the VPD. Closure of stomata started when the VPD was greater than 1.0 kPa. The stomatal conductance was severely reduced when the VPD reached values> 1.9 kPa. All the sites had a prolonged dry season. At none of the sites could oil palm be grown as a rain-fed crop. Water loss by transpiration as estimated for a dry day (without rain) ranged from 2.0 to 5.5 mm. The transpiration/evaporation ratio was approximately 0.8 at all the three locations

Properties of oil-palm-shell-based phenol wood adhesives compared with petroleum-based phenol wood adhesives

A study was carried out to test the properties of oil-palm-shell-based wood adhesives compared with petroleum-based wood adhesives. Shear strength tests for both dry and wet conditions were done. Besides that, apparent cohesive wood failure tests were also performed to compare the performance of wood bonding between these mentioned adhesives. For the dry test, the bonding performance became better when the formaldehyde to phenol (F/P) ratio increased. For all three different F/P ratios, the petroleum-based adhesives showed the best bonding performance. However, the wood bonding performance of oil-palm-shell-based adhesives was comparable with that of the petroleum-based adhesives. Meanwhile, for the wet test, the bonding performance became better when the F/P ratio increased and the best bonding performance was given by the petroleum-based adhesives with F/P ratios = 1.2 and 1.5.However, it was obvious that the performance of 50% oil-palm-shell-based adhesives was better than that of the petroleum-based adhesives at F/P ratio = 2.0. For apparent cohesive wood failure, the F/P = 2.0 group of samples and the petroleum-based adhesives gave the highest wood failure for all the compositions of adhesives. The commercial potentiality of this research is very high as the oil-palm-shell-based adhesives can replace the petroleum-based adhesives

Effect of triethanolamine on the properties of palm-based flexible polyurethane foams

This paper describes the effect of triethanolamine (TEA) on the properties, especially the strength properties, of flexible polyurethane foams produced from two palm-based polyols and modified methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI). A commercial sample (visco elastic foam, CF1) was used as the control. The properties evaluated were tack free time, density, percentage open-cell content, relative energy absorption, compressive stress and tear strength. The results were compared to a commercial sample. Incorporation of TEA improved the tack free time, percentage open-cell content and softness of the foams but not the tear strength. The foams formulated from polyol RD-PG31 had better properties than those from mixed polyol (50:50 RD-PG31:RD-PG51). The palm-based visco elastic foams are suitable for applications which require good dampening but in which strength is not of paramount importance, such as packaging and shock-absorption.

Evaluating urea fertilizer formulations for oil palm seedlings using the N isotope dilution technique

High N volatilization severely limits the use of urea in oil palm cultivation. Urea-based compound formulations incorporating K, Ca and/or Mg have the potential for enhancing urea-N utilization, but information on their efficacy is scanty. Compound and bulk blended urea-based NPK and a bulk blend of gypsum urea were evaluated for oil palm at the main nursery stage on an ultisol (Rengam series). The normal recommended N rate and half of it were used for the urea NPK fertilizers, and only the normal rate for the gypsum urea blend. Nitrogen uptake and utilization from the fertilizers were quantified by the 15N isotope dilution technique. Dry matter yield was not significantly different between the fertilizer treatments irrespective of the rates applied. Percent N utilization was markedly greater at half the normal rate of application (60% versus 33%-38%). Much higher N concentration, uptake and N utilization efficiency (%NUE) were obtained with gypsum urea, probably because the Ca2+added by this material minimized the volatilization of urea-N. Thus, gypsum urea has greater potential than the compound and bulk blended urea-based NPK fertilizers as a source of N for oil palm seedlings