Empty Fruit Bunch (EFB) Composting Treatment in the Palm Oil Industry

Empty fruit bunch (EFB) composting treatment is proving to be an effective method to reduce production costs in the palm oil industry by maximizing the usage of by-products.

The Need for Empty Fruit Bunch (EFB) Composting Treatment
One of the most significant by-products—in terms of quantity—of the palm oil milling process is the empty fruit bunch, with one ton of fresh fruit producing approximately 0.22 tons of empty fruit bunches. Previously, the EFBs were burned and the ash used as fertilizer. However, the resulting air pollution and changing legislation have led to this practice being banned.

This put palm oil mills in the less than pleasant position of having to find a cost-effective way of disposing of the empty fruit bunches. After research revealed the value of using EFB as mulch for oil palms, many companies developed methods to return the empty fruit bunches to the field. The benefits of using EFB as mulch on agricultural land include weed control, prevention of soil erosion, and maintaining moisture in the soil.

The problem with using EFB as mulch, though, is that the rising cost of labour as well as transport has led to this process becoming increasingly expensive, which has affected production costs. To maintain a competitive edge by reducing costs while still deriving the agricultural benefits of EFB, more and more companies were looking for a cost-effective yet environmentally conscious way of disposing of this by-product, which lead to empty fruit bunch (EFB) composting treatment.

The Benefits Empty Fruit Bunch (EFB) Composting Treatment
Composting treatment is the most lucrative option from the various waste management strategies because it reduces costs, thereby increasing profit, as well as being an environmentally sound solution. The process reduces EFB volume so that it is easier to transport and spread on the fields. Furthermore, it helps protect the soil and crops by reducing the risk of weed seeds, parasites, and pathogens spreading, which is a common problem with using manure as a fertilizer.

Additionally, EFB can be composted along with palm oil mill effluent (POME), meaning that both by-products can undergo treatment at the same time, thereby further reducing costs.

However, there are drawbacks. While various studies have found that empty fruit bunch (EFB) composting treatment reduces the mass by approximately 40 per cent, there is also a loss in nutrients compared to fresh EFB. One way to combat this problem is by composting fresh EFB in ovens for up to 10 months, which has shown an increase in nutrient concentration, but leads to a significant reduction in weight and volume. The advantage is that less product is required to achieve the same results.

Furthermore, composting is not only more cost-effective than mulching, but it solves some logistic issues as well. For example, when the weather is unfavorable for spreading mulch, the EFB can undergo composting treatment and the resulting product can be distributed when the conditions in the field become more appropriate.

Empty fruit bunch (EFB) composting treatment not only offers oil palm plantations a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution to dispose of their waste, but also provides another product with saleable value. The value of EFB compost as a fertilizer has been proven repeatedly, and it's one of the best in the market, meaning that the by-products of the palm oil industry can also be sold; leading to even lower costs and helping mills maintain a competitive edge.

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