KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 (Bernama) -- After the success in producing dieselfrom palm oil and vitamin products from palm kernel, the oil palm industryhas entered into a new phase which promises substantial income for thecountry.
This time around, the trunk is expected to generate additional income tothe plantation owners. If most of the felled oil palms had been left torot and wasted, posing problems for its disposal during replanting,research has found that the oil palm trunk can be used in the making oflaminated veneer lumber (LVL) to produce various products includingfurniture and partition walls.
Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) Director-General Datuk DrAbdul Razak Mohamad Ali said if the trunks were processed and marketedwidely, LVL can generate an estimated income of about RM2.5 billion ayear, based on the conservative price of RM500 per cubic metre.
The projected income is based on the felling quota of about 13.6 millionoil palm trunks in the replanting of 100,000 hectares of plantationsannually throughout the country.
According to Dr Abdul Razak, LVL from oil palm trunks and the completedproducts produced by several manufacturers in the country had already madeinroads in the Japanese markets in June last year.
He said the development and production of LVL came about after conductingresearch on the trunks for about a year in 1999. Research and developmenton oil palm trunks had been carried out by FRIM research officer HashimSamsi together with several others from the private sector.
One of the ready-made products from LVL was a prototype chair which wasdisplayed at the Malaysian International Furniture Exhibition in 2001.
Dr Abdul Razak is confident that LVL from oil palm trunks will play animportant role in the timber, construction and furniture industries infuture because of the depleting supply of rubber wood as well as otherspecies of timber in this country and other parts of the world.
He said that besides the ample supply of oil palm trunks, they can also beobtained free of charge, at least for the time being, as they areconsidered as waste products by plantation owners if they are not used ascompost.
Furthermore, the harvesting cycle for oil palms is much faster thantraditional timber or logs from forest estates.
He said that due to their unlimited supply, oil palm trunks can offsetprice hikes of raw materials and shipping charges that have reduced profitmargins from the current high prices enjoyed by wood products.
The use of oil palm trunks in producing LVL can also contribute towardsefforts at achieving zero waste.
However, Dr Abdul Razak said despite its several advantages, oil palm,which is a monocot species, does not produce wood which is as hard asother forest timber which are generally from the dicot species.
This is because timber from the monocot species has a low fibre contentbut a high content of soft or parenchyma tissue. The oil palm trunk isfound to contain a high level of water that is 320 per cent compared todicot wood. The rubber wood, for instance, has water content of 80 percent.
This means that the drying process for oil palm wood would require moreenergy and a rather high cost.
In addition, the palm oil trunk does not have a uniform density, with itsdensity decreasing from the outer bark right to the inner heartwood.
With its high sugar content, wood from the oil palm trunks are also proneto termite attacks and rot faster compared to wood from the dicot species.
Immediately after felling, the oil palm trunks need to be takenimmediately to the processing plant otherwise they would attract beetlesand other pests.
These problems had been the focus of research by Hashim who eventuallyovercame it and thus qualified for a third placing in the FRIM Inventor'sAward 2004.
According to Dr Abdul Razak, Hashim and his group of researchers haddiscovered an effective method of drying wood from oil palm trunks to theextent that its water content had been reduced to about eight per cent.
Nonetheless, efforts at developing LVL made of oil palm trunks have notceased. FRIM is confident that with continued research, efforts atproducing raw materials for wood products from oil palm timber which hasstandardised and sustained uniformity can be achieved within the next fiveto six years.
"Although Japan has started to import LVL and plywood from oil palm trunksfrom this country, efforts to promote them as temporary-use products mustbe further enhanced.
"In addition, the fusion of LVL with composites such as carbon, fibre,glass, resin and phenol formaldehyde has also helped to raise the qualityand image of products which are based on oil palm trunks," he said.
According to Dr Abdul Razak the success in increasing added value to oilpalm trunks promises a brighter future for oil palm plantation owners,whether estates such as those operated by Felda or smallholders.
He is confident that there will come a time when LVL manufacturers have toenter into an agreement with plantation owners to secure the supply of rawoil palm trunks, or to transfer directly the processing technology to theestates.