palm oil refinery

Considering the direction in which our planet’s health is headed, it’s almost impossible to make any decision today without factoring in ethics and sustainability. Whether you sell clothes, share content online, or buy a car, a background check on the people and companies behind the product – what their values are, how they source their raw materials, or how they treat their people – are all important factors to consider. In the palm oil refinery business, as with all operations in the oils and fats industry, sustainability is critical – environmentally, socially and economically.

In this blog article, we’re talking about palm oil and how you can go about being a responsible producer and consumer as you embark on a journey to set up a palm oil refinery plant.

What is palm oil?

Naturally, we start with the basics. What even is palm oil? Palm oil comes from oil palm trees, or Elaeis guineensis. While palm kernel oil is extruded from the palm seed, palm oil comes from the palm fruit. Relative to palm kernel oil and even coconut oil, palm oil has a lower ratio of saturated fat. Trans fats have got a bad rep in the past few years, and palm oil has offered itself as a better alternative; according to health experts from Harvard, it may even be a better option compared to butter. Not only is it healthier than animal fats, but it is also cheaper and easier to process.

Where exactly is palm oil used? It may be easier to answer where it is not. Everything from the oil you use to cook to the skincare products you apply on your face, from pizza dough, instant noodles and chips, to soap, shampoo, animal feed and biofuels all use palm oil or by-products of its extraction, refining or related processes. Given its utility across so many industries, it is not surprising that palm oil has witnessed increasing demand in the past few years.

What steps make up the palm oil refining process?

Now to the palm oil refining process. Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm via a bunch of preparatory processes followed by pulp pressing and clarification, with the palm kernel being separated during the process. While the palm kernel then enters a separate process for the extraction of palm kernel oil, the crude palm oil which is the final product of the extraction process makes its way to a palm oil refinery plant.

In the palm oil refining process, crude palm oil undergoes pretreatment and bleaching. This is followed by deodorisation, after which the refined palm oil goes through fractionation.

Pretreatment happens as part of the physical refining process, and is used to rid the oil of traces of gums and other visible impurities. In the bleaching stage of the palm oil refining process, colour pigments and traces of soap are eliminated from the palm oil using machines like Kumar’s Ecopure Bleacher or the Stable Bleacher.

Then comes deodorisation, which is arguably the most important step in the oil refining process. Palm oil, like any other edible oil, has to match up to high quality parameters that make it suitable for packing and human consumption. As the name of the process suggests, it is the series of stages in the palm oil refinery plant when odoriferous compounds and free fatty acids, or FFAs, are taken out of the product. Steam distillation is usually the go-to method for this. When it comes specifically to palm oil deodorisation, investing in Kumar’s EcoPack Deodorizer – with its environmentally-friendly chilled water vacuum system and inbuilt heat exchanger for heat recovery – is a no-brainer.

Finally, fractionation is carried out to separate triglycerides of high and low melting points; the steps involved in this are crystallisation at low temperatures and the subsequent filtration of the solid and liquid fractions by means of membrane filters to separate solid stearin (the retained cake) and the filtrate olein.

What factors characterise the best palm oil refinery plant?

  1. Sustainability

We cannot reiterate this enough: sustainability is key. There are a number of different ways that you can ensure your palm oil and palm oil refinery plant take environmental and social factors into consideration.

For starters, specifically for palm oil, there exist bodies which certify the environmental impacts of palm oil plantations. For instance, there are RSPO certifications, Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials certificates, ISCC and Rainforest Alliance certifications. Use such certifications to guide your decision making when choosing the raw materials that feed your processes.

Further, palm oil production and refining, like any other industrial process, has by-products with potential for value addition. Using these waste materials as resources in other process or industries is an important way of ensuring that your processes are not generating unreasonable amounts of waste or discarding useful materials. Biofuels – referred to as palm oil methyl esters, or PME, when they come from feedstock from this particular process – are the main useful by-product of producing palm oil and are environmentally-friendly in their production (as they come from products that would otherwise have been discarded), and also in their usage (as they have lower emissions as compared to traditional fuels).

Further, biodiesel production also has a useful by-product: crude glycerol. Some biodiesel plants discard crude glycerol as waste, but if separated from the biofuel using appropriate methods, it can be refined enough to be useful in the textile industry, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics as a lubricant, solvent or as hydraulic fluid.

When setting up a palm oil refinery plant, ensuring that your processes are set up in a way that supports the repurposing of by-products from the entire life cycle of the palm fruit and palm kernel is also a wise decision financially. The added revenue will help you think beyond just the palm oil plant price, and prove to be economically and environmentally sustainable.

  1. Good quality equipment

When determining the palm oil plant price that you are willing to invest in your business, it may be tempting to invest cheaper or to cut corners to reach profitability as soon as possible. But that is the surest way to compromise the longevity of your operations.

When investing in a palm oil refinery plant, don’t think of CAPEX costs in isolation. Even if they are slightly on the expensive side, invest in equipment which gives you long service life and has minimal wear and tear parts and consequently, minimal repair needs. For instance, all of Kumar’s equipment is constructed of a special steel alloy and all components are specially treated to ensure they can withstand long-term use. What’s more, annual maintenance contracts ensure that you don’t later have to deal with unaccounted-for expenses when it comes to regular maintenance. And of course, it goes without saying that beyond the long-term economic benefits, investing in state-of-the-art machinery is good way to ensure high quality products for your final consumers.

These factors are only a small part of the entire process, but they are fundamental to ensuring that your palm oil refinery plant is a socially- and environmentally-responsible business.

Since 1939, Kumar has been delivering dependable process engineering solutions to the oils and fats industry. We're known for our robustly engineered, versatile, and operationally profitable plant and machinery. It's why customers all over the world depend on us to solve their processing challenges, big or small. If you'd like to know more about our solutions, please fill out the form below:

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