Palm oil:the process from palm fruit bunches to RBD palm oil

I already knew that oil palm is so popular for growers because it’s so productive – one hectare can produce up to ten times more oil than other oilseeds – but I didn’t really get the scale of it all, didn’t know the whole process of from palm fruit bunches to RBD palm oil, from this article , you will know any what do you want to know.
main section of palm fruit
Main section of palm fruit

The trees start being productive at around 3 years and then they keep producing for around 25 years.
136 trees/ha=20-23tonsFFB/ha/year
CPKO = 1t/hectare/year
FFB = 1000-3000 individual palm fruit
FFB = 10-25kg
Weight of each palm fruit= 8-13g

plantation staff in indonesia
Plantation staff in indonesia

In Indonesia, the industry average is 4.14 tons of palm oil per year per hectare; enormous compared to, for example, soy’s average of around half a tons per hectare.

On the one plantation there are hundreds of staff, doing all kinds of jobs from harvesting to working in the mill to office work. This fairly simple seeming supply chain requires an army of manual labor.

As well as locals, these workers are from all over Indonesia; from Papua, Java, Sulawesi, Sumatra and many of the other islands spread out across this vast archipelago. This is common in Indonesia, people travelling for work opportunities but the scale of it here seems different as it’s on such a huge scale.

palm oil harvester at work
Palm oil harvester at work

From one tree to the next, the harvester walks along with a steel pole – that weighs around 12kgs and has a saw blade at one end – and a wheelbarrow.

palm oil harvester
Plantation staff is confirming wheter the palm fruit is ripe
To work out which fruit bunches are ready to be harvested, he’ll spy ripe fruit scattered on the ground. First he saws off the surrounding palm fronds and then he cuts down the fruit bunch.

Weighing around 25kgs, the fruit bunch is moved to the road. Later, they’re collected by trucks which will take the fruit to the palm oil mill plant.

individual palm fruits

Nothing is wasted; even the individual fruits that fall from the bunch are caught and thrown into the truck


Once the fruit bunches have been collected from all over the plantation, the trucks go to the palm oil mill plant. First they’re weighed and then they drop off their loads.

palm fruit reception process
Trucks dump the fruit bunches into palm fruit reception station

Trucks dump the fruit bunches into palm fruit reception station, which then move along to the steriliser station for some steam sterilizing.

palm oil sterilizing system
Palm fruit bunches is sterilizing

From the steriliser station, the fruit bunches have softened, loosening the fruit. The threshing machine does the rest of the job, completely separating the parts of the fruit bunch.

The leftover fibre and shells are used as fuel, powering the mill as well as all other electricity needs on the plantation.

The empty fruit bunches are used as organic fertiliser and the fruit is taken over to the press where the oil is squished out to make the oil.

There are two types of oil:

Palm oil (Crude Palm Oil – CPO) – made from the pulp of the fruit. It’s edible and used in food products like biscuits, instant noodles, bread and many many other food items.

Palm kernel oil – made from the seed of the fruit. It’s used mainly in cosmetics and shampoos, etc.

The crude palm oil is pumped into trucks and then taken to the oil plant – which is essentially just enormous holding tanks.
The crude palm oil is pumped into trucks and then taken to the oil plant

These trucks are unloading crude palm oil at the bulking station. The oil is pumped into the tanks; held, waiting, ready to be sent to the palm oil refinery plant. Apparently the oil can’t be stored for too long as it doesn’t quite go off, but it isn’t as fresh.

Large scale palm oil refinery plant which refine crude palm oil to 
RBD palm oil

Weighing in at the palm oil refinery plant. This is where crude palm oil goes to be refined, bleached and deodorized resulting in RBD palm oil.

The control room: the workers monitor and manage the palm oil refining process.

Finally the refined oil is pumped back into a truck ready to go back to storage to be traded; bought by those who will turn it into food, cosmetics and biodiesel.

Obviously this is an example of one producer and their supply chain and there are many other stories that could be written. This is just one part of the supply chain showing just one part of this world.

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