Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an important tool for identifying potential environmental impacts associated with the production of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) from specific operations in Malaysian oil palm plantations. This LCA study is to make available the life cycle inventory for cradle-to-gate data so that the environmental impacts posed by FFB production in the plantation can be assessed. The results of the study provide the Malaysian palm oil industry with information, and identify ways and measures to reduce the environmental impacts.
Most of the foreground data were collected directly from the oil palm plantations (site specific) from a detailed survey of the estates throughout Malaysia. The inventory data were collected from 102 plantations (based on feedback to a questionnaire) covering 1.1 million hectares of planted area, which is approximately 25% of the total area under oil palm. This survey area consisted of immature (1– to 2-year-old palms) and mature (3– to 25-year-old palms) areas, with both data sets included in the inventory for an amortized period of 25 years. Data gaps were filled by information obtained through literature and public databases, or calculated using published models. The inputs and outputs from upstream activities were quantified on the basis of a functional unit of production of 1 t FFB, while the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) was carried out using the Sima Pro version 7.1 software and the Eco-indicator 99 methodology.
The weighted results of LCA for the production of 1 t FFB from continued land use (replanting) show significant environmental impacts in the fossil fuels, respiratory inorganics and climate change categories. The most significant process contributing to these environmental impacts comes from the production and usage of the various fertilizers (especially N fertilizers) from the use of field machinery (tractors) during operations in the plantation, and the use of transport vehicles bringing inputs to the plantations and transporting FFB to the mills. Producing FFB from continued land use (replanting) has no effect on land use.
The results clearly show that nitrogenous fertilizer production and application in the plantation is the most polluting process in the agricultural stage of FFB production; this is followed by the energy used by the machinery in the plantations and for transportation of FFB to the mills. Ways of reducing the environmental impacts are by increasing the FFB yield through the use of high-yielding oil palm planting materials which will result in increased fruit production, by applying more organic sources of nitrogen fertilizer instead of chemical fertilizers, by returning the nutrient-rich slurry from palm oil mill effluent (POME) treatment ponds to the field, or by applying compost (empty fruit bunches + POME) as fertilizer.
* Malaysian Palm Oil Board, P. O. Box 10620, 50720 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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Last updated: 24 February 2017
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