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OIL PALM PROCESSING (courtesy of FAO)
The main products of the oil palm include: palm oil, palm kernel and palm kernel oil. The wastes generated when the fruits are processed to obtain palm oil and palm kernel have several uses. The sludge are useful in making traditional soaps and fertilizer and the Palm kernel cake is used widely as an input into the feed industry and for fertilizer.
The processing wastes namely: empty bunch refuse, fibre, shell, sludge and mill effluent constitute about 74% – 76% of the total mass of the oil products. In addition the other parts of the palm tree (trunk, leaves, fibre) have broad uses.
By-products from the oil processing (fibre, shell, sludge) can be used as fuel for the mills, making briquettes to substitute for fuel wood.
Source: Abia State Palm Oil Value Chain Development Project Abia State, Nigeria, 2010
Traditional Techniques Used In Small-Scale Palm Oil Processing
Mechanical extraction: This is the most tedious and important operation in processing palm fruit. It involves pounding (digestion) which breaks the oil-bearing mesocarp from the palm fruit. There are two methods usually employed in this processing:
Pounding cooked/soaked fruits in large wooden or concrete mortars with a wooden pestle;
Foot trampling the cooked but cold fruits in canoes or specially constructed wooden troughs.
Pressing: The method of oil extraction consists of:
Steeping the pounded fruit mash in hot or cold water;
Removing fibre and nuts in small baskets and hand squeezing;
Filtering out residual fibre from the oil/water emulsion in perforated metal colanders or baskets;
Boiling and skimming palm oil from the oil/water mixture;
Drying the recovered oil.
This method result in loss of substantial amount of oil trapped in the mixture as an emulsion. It was long realized that pressing is a bottleneck in small-scale palm oil processing. The process is usually conducted slowly to avoid the huge loss of oil that might result from inadequate pressing. The economic importance of this process was therefore long recognized and has received the greatest attention for mechanization.
Presses developed over the years have included models such as:
Manual vertical screw-press
Stork hydraulic hand press
NIFOR hydraulic hand press
Combined screw/hydraulic hand press
This has over the years enjoyed the highest patronage in Nigeria, even though oil loss/fibre ratio for these presses range from 18-35%. This should be expected as the operation of these presses depends on the strength of the operator.
Combination mechanical digester and screw-press
The NIFOR mechanical screw-press is the latest used by the small-scale palm oil processing industry in Nigeria. It allows the released oil to be drained and collected.
It can handle over 1 tonne Fresh fruit bunch (FFB) per hour with an average oil loss to fibre of 10.7%.
COMMERCIAL PALM OIL PROCESSING UNIT OPERATIONS
The sequence of processes involve in the industrial/large scale extraction of oil palm to produce a high yield of internationally acceptable quality. These are:
1. The reception of fresh fruit bunches from the plantations: 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 minimize further deterioration. Adequate care should be taken during harvesting and transportation of the fruit to avoid excessive bruising; resulting in oil of reduced quality.
2. Threshing of bunches to free the palm fruit: This involved the removal of the fruits fr0m the spikelets growing on a main stem. It can be achieved manually using cutlass or axe, the fruits are then hand-picked. In a mechanized system a rotating drum or fixed drum equipped with rotary beater bars detach the fruit from the bunch, leaving the spikelets on the stem
3. Sterilization: Sterilization or cooking means the use of high-temperature wet-heat treatment of loose fruit. The cooking serves the following purposes:
Heat treatment destroys oil-splitting enzymes and arrests hydrolysis and autoxidation.
Heat allows the oil-bearing cells to come together and flow more easily on application of pressure.
Fruit cooking weakens the pulp structure, softening it and making it easier to detach the fibrous material and its contents during the digestion process. Making the oil to be released more readily.
The moisture introduced by the steam acts chemically to break down gums and resins which cause the oil to foam during frying.
Sterilization (cooking) is one of the most important operations in oil processing, ensuring the success of several other phases.
4. Digestion of the fruit: Digestion is the process of releasing the palm oil in the fruit through breaking down of the oil-bearing cells. The digester is usually made up of cylindrical vessel fitted rotating shaft carrying a number of beaters. Through the action of the rotating beater arms the fruit is pounded.
5. Pressing (Extracting the palm oil): There are two methods which can be employed in extracting oil from digested material. One system uses mechanical presses and is called the ‘dry’ method. The other called the ‘wet’ method uses hot water to leach out the oil.
In the ‘dry’ method, the oil is squeezed out of a mixture of oil, moisture, fibre and nuts by applying mechanical pressure on the digested mash.
6. Clarification and drying of oil: This process ensures the oil is separated from its impurities. The fluid coming out of the press is a mixture of palm oil, water, cell debris, fibrous material and ‘non-oily solids’. Hot water is added to the thick mixture in the ratio 3:1. The diluted mixture is passed through a screen to remove coarse fibre.
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. The decanted oil is re heated in a cooking pot and the dried oil is carefully skimmed off from any residual moisture.
7. Oil storage: The purified oil is transferred to a tank for storage prior to dispatch from the mill. The stored temperature are maintained around 50°C using hot water or low-pressure steam-heating coils, to prevent solidification and fractionation. Iron contamination from the storage tank may occur if the tank is not lined with a suitable protective coating.
Small-scale mills simply pack the dried oil in used petroleum oil drums or plastic drums and store the drums at ambient temperature.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON SETTING UP A PALM OIL PROCESSING INVESTMENT CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Culled from http://www.fao.org
 Mr. Bamidele Thomas et.al.(2011) A report on Palm Oil Value Chain Analysis in the Niger Delta
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