Sustainable Use of Oil Palm Wood for High Value-Added Products

Project Background

The total plantation area for oilpalms amounts to over 20 million hectares worldwide and is expected to further increase. Oil palm plantations are exclusively planted for palm oil which is used in the food and biochemical industries as well as for energy.Forest destruction, loss of bio diversity and human rights violations through massive and partly illegal planting of oil palm plantations have been widely reported on.

However, this present project does not deal with palm oil but with the utilization of an up to date disregarded but valuable raw material–the wood from oil palm trunks!

When oil palm plantations were originally established, the question of what would happen to the biomass, especially the oil palm trunks, after replanting was not an issue.

The fact is,oil palm plantations exist and they are gradually being replanted after a palm age of 25 years when palm oil yield is no longer economic. Based on a planted area of about 20 million ha, an average of 0.8 million ha annually will be replanted on a long-term basis. As a result, large volumes of the resource oil palm wood will accrue worldwide, primarily in Asia. Estimates forecast 100 to 120 million cubic meters of trunks per year.

Presently, oil palm trunks are left to decay naturally, in some cases chipped as fertilizer (with subsequent insect and fungal attack) or even illegally burnt. All three procedures are highly detrimental for the environment due to rapid CO2 emissions and in case of burning severe smoke and haze development.

Furthermore, a valuable resource which accrues in any case remains unused with the consequent economic and ecological disadvantages. The main reasons for the non-utilization is that oil palm wood significantly differs from “normal” wood in terms of extreme density variation within the trunk, the very high contents of water, silicates, sugar and starch. This results in a very different structure and properties of oil palm wood and processing requirements in comparison to “normal” wood species. Botanically, an oil palm is not a tree (dicotyledon) but a grass (monocotyledon).

To date, the required know how and technology for an efficient use of oil palm wood are not available.

However, the use of oil palm trunks could significantly reduce the pressure on natural forests by replacing the timber extracted. In Asia, the ongoing dramatic decrease in available timber from natural forests and relatively small volumes from plantations (e.g. Rubberwood, Aciaciamangium) have already lead to wood shortages. Illegal harvests further aggravate the situation.In the future, population and economic growths is expected to convert Asia into one of the largest importers of wood and wooden products.

At this point, it must be emphasized again that the wood of oil palm trunks never was and never will be the production target of oil palm plantations as revenues from wood fall far below those of palm oil. Nevertheless, the utilization of an anyhow existing resource is an ecologic and economic imperative.

Brief Project Description

Earlier studies and pilot projects on the utilization of oil palm trunks for products have shown high technical and economic potentials. However, due to the aforementioned reasons there are no industrial implementations yet.

The overall project objective is the best possible use of timber from unproductive, over aged oil palms for the production of high value-added products, e.g. one-layer and multi-layer panels, blockboards, gluelam in standard dimensions and cross laminated timber (CLT) in Malaysia and Thailand.The project is to develop comprehensive solutions for a sustainable use of oil palm wood taking into account technical, economic, ecologic and social aspects.

Conservation of resources and tropical forests, climate protection, generation of jobs and income in the resource countries and new market development are objectives pursued by the project. Only plantation holders who have certified a substantial share of their plantation areas according to international standards can participate in the project. In the framework of this project a Chain-of-Custody system for oil palm wood which corresponds to that for “normal”wood products is being developed. Oil palm wood is not subject to the European Timber Trade Regulation (EUTR), however certificates of origin through the above certification system are possible without difficulty.

For implementing the project, different companies and institutions have joined in the international network “PalmwoodNet” in a multi-stakeholder approach. Members of PalmwoodNet are the five core partners Jowat SE, Detmold; Minda Industrieanlagen GmbH, Minden; Möhringer Anlagenbau GmbH, Wiesentheid;  Leitz GmbH + Co. KG, Oberkochen together with Boehlerit GmbH & Co. KG, Kapfenberg/Austria and Palmwood R+D, Freiburg. Furthermore, equipment manufacturers and universities from Europe and industry partners, R+D institutions as well as sector associations and institutions from Malaysia and Thailand have become associated partners of the network, each assuming specific development and implementation tasks.

The PPP-Project “Oil Palm Wood” sponsored by DEG (Deutsche Investitions- und EntwicklungsgesellschaftmbH) with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development was officially started in November 2015 under the leadership ofthe project coordinator Jowat SE.

In the meantime work results and solutions are available from the following areas:

  • Raw material supply
  • Suitable products from oil palm wood
  • Primary and secondary processing techniques incl. wood preservation and drying
  • Machines and tools
  • Adhesive technology
  • Ecology and sustainable supply

as well as

  • Financialevaluation for assessing performance and competitiveness

These project results will be presented to the public at LIGNA2017 by the core and associated network partners exhibiting at the fair.