Mill Integrated Conversion of Palm Biomass to Commodity Intermediates

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The current production of palm oil produces large amounts of biomass residues, namely empty fruit bunches, shells, fibres, fronds, and trunks. The current worldwide demand for biomass-derived biochemical intermediates, provides the opportunity for converting these biomass residues into higher value products. In this design project,the feasibility of 2ndgeneration intermediates obtained from oil palm residues has been evaluated. The focus of the project has been the integration of a conversion process into the palm oil milling facilities, considering availability of residues at different scales. Thus, logistics implications regarding biomass sources, which are considered to have a large impact in biomass cost, are taken into account in the evaluation.After a preliminary evaluation of different alternatives, a fermentable sugars product is found as the most promising product for a 2ndgeneration palm-based biorefinery, based on economic margin, market opportunity, market size, process safety, and environmental impact. As part of the process design for the biomass transformation, it was found that a pre-treatment step is necessary due to the recalcitrant nature of the material. Several pre-treatment alternatives and their process implications were evaluated, indicating that acid catalysed steam explosion is the most suitable alternative. The resulting cellulosic fraction undergoes enzymatic hydrolysis to give fermentable sugars. Additional sugars are recovered when biomassavailable form plantation operationsis available.A preliminary evaluation of the process indicates that the benefits related to economies of scale are overwhelmed by the biomass transportation costs that larger scales imply, finding an optimum scale of three mills (biomass derived from operations of three palm oil mills) with capacity of 60 tonne FFB/h each. Following these initial findings, a more detailed computer model of the process was built in order to compare cases withbiomass derived from three and ten mills.An economic evaluation indicates that the process is profitable in both cases, with a payback in the third year of operation. As in the preliminary estimations, the proposed design results in total processing costs lower for the smaller scale, with 1 074and 1 120RM/tonne of sugar for the three-and ten-mill cases respectively. Sensitivity analysesindicate that the process profitability is more robust to changes on transportation distance amongst mills and sugar price when processing biomass derived from three mills.
OPBC PROJECT Mill Integrated Conversion of Palm Biomass to Commodity IntermediatesiiFurthermore, after a Life Cycle Assesment (LCA) it is found that the environmental impact of palm oil, as inEDIP 2003 methodology,is greatly reducedwhen the proposed process is included. The degree in which the impact is decreased depends on the considerations taken in the assessment, Bearing in mind the fermentable sugar productis a sugar replacement, the environmental impact of palm oil can be reducedat least39%. Although the assessment is based on rough considerations, given the scope of this design project this impact reductionis considered a good initial estimation of the benefits it can bring to the palm oil production.Overall, it is found that the proposed process can bring an economic benefit to palm oil mills, increasing the availability of renewable feedstocks for the chemical industryin Malaysia. It is found that larger scales result in highersugarproduction costs when transportation of biomass is considered. Thus, the profitability of the proposed process at lower scales is more robust to changes in fermentable sugar product price and transportation distance. Thus, it is considered that the processat a three-mill scale is a better alternative
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDelft University of Technology
Number of pages182
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • biorefinery
  • economies of scale
  • plam biomass

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