KUALA LUMPUR July 23 , 2001 10:05AM - An invitation to professionals toreturn home and an idea to recycle palm oil fibre waste prompted anenterprising Malaysian engineer working overseas to spawn a project thatis helping to heal the many areas left scarred by land development.
Cutting hills and leaving large tracts of land bare seem to come naturallyto Malaysian property developers, despite pleas against it by everyone,including the prime minister himself.
Scarred hillslopes stick out like sore thumbs in many areas wheredevelopment is taking place in the country and very little effort isapparently made to heal the 'wounds' before the elements take over andwreak havoc to the surounding environment.
But take heart that a local company, CHT Natural Solutions Sdn Bhd,started by returnee engineer Leong Kwok Wing has come up with a naturalslope erosion control mattress that is made from palm oil fibre (POF)waste and is biodegradeble, enviroment-friendly and economical.
Called "Vigormat," the mattress is made from POF obtained readily from thecountry's many palm oil mills.
PALM FIBRE WASTE PUT TO GOOD USE
According to palm oil industry sources the country's palm oil millsproduce about 11 million tonnes of POF waste annually. Although a lot ofresearch is being done to find uses for the waste, only a small amount isprocessed and used as cushion stuffing for car seats, mulching for plantsand a few other uses while the rest is used as compost or burnt off.
Thus, as CHT Natural Solutions' recycling business takes off, besidesbringing spinoff benefits to POF collectors and processors, it will alsohelp the palm oil industry put to good use what was once considered awaste.
Leong, who obtained his civil engineering degree in the United States andworked there for over 20 years, struck upon the idea of using POF afterhaving worked with similar natural fibre materials during his job stintswith the California Highway and California Parks and Recreationauthorities.
Two years ago he met an investment delegation led by International Tradeand Industry Minister Datuk Paduka Rafidah Aziz, who invited Malaysiansworking overseas to return home with the technology they have acquired andthat spurred him to come back and try out the project.
RETURNING HOME WITH TECHNOLOGY
Upon his return he talked with Porim and other palm oil related agencieson POF useage, did some trial testing of the product in Germany beforemanufacturing it here in August last year.
The technology involved isn't new as similar products are available in theUS and Germany but the foreign mattresses are made from the more expensivecoconut coir.
But Leong took advantage of the abundant POF available in Malaysia, whichis the world's largest producer of palm oil, and applied the sametechnology to produce similar mats at a comparatively lower price than theforeign product.
POF is processed and weaved into mattresses 2.44 metres wide and 21 metreslong using German-made machinery.
He says the Vigormat, which is laid on slopes or other areas stripped offvegetation and exposed to the elements during land developments, improvesvegetative growth and reduces soil erosion.
LIGHTWEIGHT & USER-FRIENDLY
Often barren slopes are hydro-seeded with grass seeds which is a method ofspraying grass seeds to grow grass on the cleared areas.
But the seeds are usually washed off by rain, eaten by birds or just blownaway by the wind, resulting in the slopes remaining bare.
The Vigormat, which is spread on the affected slopes, helps to effectively"cushion" the grass seeds and slopes from rain impact, strong winds andthe birds.
The mattress retains moisture in the soil and helps the seeds to germinateand punch through the mat while reinforcing the root system.
Leong says the lightweight and user-friendly mattress is versatile. Itcould be used at construction sites for highways, roads, railwaysembankments, 'cut and fill' slopes, commercial, residential and resortproperty developments.
Other projects suitable for the mattress application are tunnel and miningreclamations, natural lakes, sediment ponds, dams, rivers and streamembankments, grassed channels, spillways and waterways, landscaping, parksand wild life sanctuaries, wetlands, fire-damaged forests and loggingrehabilitation areas.
ARCHITECTS & DEVELOPERS LOVE PRODUCT
He says the mattress has been successfully installed in severalcontruction sites by private developers, a dam site by the DID and roadprojects by the JKR.
At some sites, the contractors had tried other materials but failed beforethey installed Vigormat and managed to get a thick grass cover for theslopes.
He says architects and developers like the product very much butcontractors do not use it if it is not in the construction specifications,especially if it costs more.
But what they do not realise is that "a stitch in time" could save alot oftime and money like when the slope come crashing down or the exposed soilget washed into roads and streams.
The heavy cuts made at places being developed are often exposed to theheavy rainfall, resulting in landslides, erosion and formation of gullies.
"People often use plastic sheet covers but Vigormat is a better solutionbecause it is cheaper than the plastic sheet which costs RM1 per sq foot,while Vigormat, which only costs 25 sen per sq foot, is natural and willallow vegetation to grow again," he adds.
ANOTHER PRODUCT FOR EMBANKMENT PROTECTION
The company has also developed another product called Vigorlok for use inthe embankment protection of rivers, streams, dam sites, spillways andlevees, besides rehabilitation of wetland, fire-damaged restoration work,lakeside and shoreline protection, siltation and sediment collectionponds.
It is made by compressing POF into ultra violet ray stablisedpolypropylene netting to form natural fibre logs.
Vigorlok can be easily installed on to river embankments and shorelines toprevent soil loss as a result of erosion and "wash-outs" due to waterlevel changes and tidal action.
It also reinforces plant root system, retains moisture and trapsnutrients, while it biodegrades and becomes fertilizers, thereby enhancingplant growth.
Leong says the company now produces about 15,000 sq metres of Vigormat aday at its factory in Subang.
PENETRATING EXPORT MARKETS
"So far we have exported Vigormat to Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippinesand are working on enquiries from Hong Kong, Ecuador, the United Statesand Europe," he adds.
The Vigormat costs slightly more than rival products made from syntheticfibre and straw but customers have found Vigormat better in the long run,says Leong.
Assoc Prof Dr Syed Shahar Barakbah of the Institut Sains Biologi atUniversiti Malaya noted that contractors here don't like to revegetateslopes that had been cut or cleared.
"There is a misconception, especially among some engineers, that plantsproduce something that is detrimental to the soil. I don't know where theygot the misconception," says Dr Syed, who specialises in slope vegetationdynamics.
He said engineers here seem to prefer the more expensive method ofbuilding concrete walls against the slopes and when they fail, they wouldtry again at greater cost.
Note: CHT Natural Solutions can be contacted at tel: 7474480. -- BERNAMA