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Deris, R. R. R., Sulaiman, M. R., Darus, F. M., Mahmus, M. S. and Bakar, N. A. 2006.

Pyrolysis Of Oil Palm

Trunk (OPT). In: Som, M.A., Veluri, M.V.P.S., Savory, R.M., Aris, M.J. and Yang, Y.C. (Ed.). Proceedings of
the 20th Symposium of Malaysian Chemical Engineers (SOMChE 2006), 19 - 21 December 2006, UiTM Shah
Alam, Selangor. pp 245 – 250. Shah Alam: University Publication Center (UPENA). ISBN: 983-3644-074


R. R. R. Deris1,*, M. R. Sulaiman2, F. M. Darus1, M. S. Mahmud3 and N. A. Bakar1
Faculty of Applied Sciences, Universiti Teknologi MARA,
40450 Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.
Faculty of Chemical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi MARA,
40450 Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.
Faculty of Education, Universiti Teknologi MARA,
40450 Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia.
Corresponding author. Phone: +603-55443650/4540, Fax: +603-55443638
Email: razuan@salam.uitm.edu.my

Thousands of tonnes of Oil Palm Trunk (OPT) will be produced annually in Malaysia. This has a significant
effect on the environment, particularly due to the green house gas (GHG) that are released during the
decomposition of OPT. OPT was pyrolysed at temperature ranges from 200oC to 600oC with heating rate of
10oC/min. The char yield decreased rapidly with increasing pyrolysis temperature up to 300oC. Above 300oC,
the char yield decreased proportionately as the temperature increases. However, the gas yield (includes the loss
of fine oil droplets) showed the opposite trend, it increases with increasing reactor temperature. The oil
production showed the same trend as gases but the proportions are much lower. The highest percentage of oil
produced was at 600oC. At the temperature of 200oC, there was no significant effect on the distribution of the
production of liquid, char and gases. It may be because of not enough energy to break down the higher
molecules to the smallest one. The study on the effect of particle size on products distribution showed that, there
was no major effect on product yields between particles size of 0.25mm to 2.0mm. Gas Chromatography-Mass
Spectroscopy (GC-MS) result showed that the highest percentage of compound present in the liquid oil was in
the order of Heptadecane (20.6%), Nonacosane (18.2%), Tetracosane (14.8%), Octadecane (14.3%), Decosane
(14.3%), 11-butyl (14.3%), Heptacosane (5.2%), Hexacosane (3.3%), Tetratetracontane (3.3%) and Phenol

Keywords: pyrolysis, oil palm trunk, GC-MS.

Biomass is an important contributor to the world economy. Malaysia is the largest producer and
exporter of palm oil in the world with market share of about 50 and 58 percent, respectively (Mohd Nasir,
2003). In 1997, Malaysia produced about 13.2 million tones of oil palm biomass including trunk, fronds, and
empty fruit bunches (Kamaruddin et.al., 1997). Agriculture and forest products industries provide food, feed,
fiber, and a wide range of necessary products like shelter, packaging, clothing, and communications. However,
biomass is also a source of a large variety of chemicals and materials, and of electricity and fuels (Chum and
Overend, 2001). In developing countries, the use of biomass is of high interest, since these countries have
economies largely based on agriculture and forestry (Sensoz et. al., 2006). The use of these materials will
depend on the state of the art of safe and economic technologies able to transform them into manageable
products (Bridgwater, 1999). In this way, thermochemical biomass conversion processes such as pyrolysis,
gasification and liquefaction are the most appropriate (Encinar et al., 1995). In thermal conversion, combustion
is already widely practised. Whereas, gasification attracts a high level of interest as it offers higher efficiencies
compared to combustion. However, fast pyrolysis is interesting because liquid are produced and this offers
advantages in terms of storage, transportation and versatility in applications, even though it is still at a relatively

early stage of its development (Bridgwater, 2004). The products and applications of these thermal conversion
processes are summarised in Figure 1.

Pyrolysis involves heating carbonaceous materials in the absence of Oxygen. It is an ancient

technology used ages ago to produce charcoal from wood for heating and smelting metals from various ores.
Charcoal for barbecues and similar uses has been produced on a small scale in Malaysia at present time. Modern
pyrolysis technology is developing predominantly for the maximum liquid production instead of merely
charcoal and coke. To enhance the overall applicability of biomass for large scale production, pyrolysis
processes offers several options for upgrading biomass. The amount and nature of end products of pyrolysis will
depend on the operating temperature, the heating rate, the residence time and the compositions of the biomass.
In this study, oil palm trunk (OPT) was chosen as the renewable energy source. Its pyrolysis was conducted
under different conditions in a fixed-bed reactor. The aim of the study is to investigate the influence of the final
pyrolysis temperature, the particle size and the compositions of bio-oil in order to provide preliminary data for
further investigation.

Pyrolysis Bio-fuel Storage Chemicals,

option transport fuels,

Gasification Fuel Gas Turbine


Combustion Heat Boiler Heat

FIGURE 1: Products from thermal biomass conversion



The biomass sample used in this study was Oil Palm Trunk (OPT) obtained from an oil palm farm at
Kampung Tanjung Berembang, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia. The proximate and ultimate analysis of the OPT is
presented in Table 1. For the study purposes, five different feedstocks sizes 0.25mm, 0.50mm, 0.75mm, 1.0mm
and 2.0mm were used. The feedstocks were cut into cubic shape, oven dried at 110 overnight and ground prior
to pyrolysis.


The experimental system used was a fixed bed pyrolysis unit (Fig.2). The size of the reactor was 70
mm in diameter and 380 mm in length, constructed of stainless steel with a temperature controller. The reactor
was heated externally and nitrogen gas was supplied to maintain the inert atmosphere in the reactor and also to
drive the pyrolyze vapor product to the condensers. The OPT sample of 150g was loaded in the reactor vessel.
The temperature range for the reactor was 200 – 600 0C. The retention time was fixed for 2 hours in order to
allow the sample to go through a complete pyrolysis process (R. R. R. Deris, 2006). The liquid product was
collected at the liquid collector point. The effect of temperature was analysed by increasing the temperature and
fixing the particle size to determine the optimum condition of product yield. The condensable products (liquid)
were collected in a series of traps maintained at room temperature. These liquid products contained an aqueous
and oil phase, which were weighed and run through GC-MS analysis. The char was also removed from the
reactor and weighed.

TABLE 1: Proximate and ultimate analyses of OPT
Proximate analysis Wt% Elemental analysis Wt%
Moisture content 5.89 Carbon (C) 40.64
Volatile matter 76.84 Hydrogen (H) 5.09
Fixed carbon 11.42 Nitrogen (N) 2.15
Ash content 5.85 Oxygen (O) 53.12*
Sulfur (S) -
Colorific value (MJ/kg) 17.27
*By difference








FIGURE 2: Fixed Bed Pyrolysis Unit


The main criterion of the suitability of the feedstock to be used for pyrolysis conversion is high volatile
content with low ash and sulfur content. Table 1 shows the characteristics of OPT, it appears that the high
volatile content, low ash and sulfur content, therefore it is suitable for pyrolysis conversion. Table 2 shows a
comparison of characteristics of fresh OPT and char obtained from pyrolysis at 600oC. It revealed that colorific
value (CV) was doubled (28.18 MJ/kg) from the original sample (17.27 MJ/kg). Also, proximate analysis shows
that fixed carbon and ash content increased but volatile content decreased to almost half of the original sample.
Since the CV of the char is low (28.18 MJ/kg) but high ash content (25.68 wt %), therefore it is not suitable for
charcoal fuel production. These results supported a finding in K. O. Lim and K. S. Lim, 1991. But OPT is
suitable for pyrolysis conversion because it contains high volatile content (76.84 wt %).


The products obtained from pyrolysis of OPT are bio-oil, solid char and gas. The maximum liquid
product was found at an operating temperature of 600oC and 1 mm feedstock size.


The products distribution of different pyrolysis temperature is shown in Fig. 1. It is learn that bio-oil
started to produce at temperature above 200oC. This is because at 200oC and below the heat was not high
enough for a complete pyrolysis to take place thus yielding less liquid product or no liquid at all. As the
operating temperature increases, the liquid yield increased significantly up to 600oC at a product yield of 18.7

The solid (Char) yield decreased rapidly from 90 wt% (at temperature of 200oC) to 42 wt% (at temperature of
300oC). As operating temperature increases from 300oC to 600oC, the char yield decreased slightly from 42 wt%
to 30 wt%.

The gas (includes the loss of fine oil droplets) result showed an opposite trend of solid yield. It showed a rapid
increase from 10 wt% (at temperature of 200oC) to 42 wt% (at temperature of 300oC). From the temperature of
300oC to 600oC the gas yield showed a gradual increase from 42 wt% to 51.3 wt%.

TABLE 2: Characteristics of Oil Palm Trunk (OPT)

Test Parameters Raw Material Char

(Wt %) (Wt %)
Moisture Content 5.89 1.59

Proximate Analysis
Ash Content 5.85 25.68
Volatile Content 76.84 30.92
Fixed Carbon 11.42 41.82
Ultimate Analysis
Carbon 40.64 42.68
Hydrogen 5.09 1.79
Nitrogen 2.15 2.48
Oxygen 53.12* 53.05
Sulfur 0.00 0.00
Colorific value (MJ/Kg) 17.27 28.18
*By difference

Effect of operating temperature on product yields



Product yields (wt%)








200 300 400 500 600
Temperature (oC)

liquid char gases

FIGURE 3: Effect of temperature on solid, liquid and gas yield


Figure 4 represents the percentage mass of liquid, solid and gas products in relation to the mass of OPT
feed for different particle size at 600oC. It was observed that at the products proportion with particle size of 0.25
mm, 0.50 mm, 0.75 mm and 1.0 mm, there was no significant effect. However, larger particle size (2.00 mm)
produced slightly more liquid (18 wt %) compared to the smaller ones.

Effect of particle sizes on product distributions



Product yields (wt%)





0.00 0.25 0.50 0.75 1.00 1.25 1.50 1.75 2.00 2.25
Particle size

Liquid Char Gases

FIGURE 4: Effect of particles sizes on the product yield

TABLE 3: Identification and quantification of chemical compound in OPT pyrolysis oil

Peak RT(Min) Component % Area

1 3.35 2-Furanmethanol 0.19
2 6.53 Phenol 1.59
3 7.90 1,2-Cyclopentanedione, 3-methyl 0.13
4 9.01 Phenol, 2-methyl- 0.11
5 9.92 Phenol, 4-methyl- 0.04
6 10.05 Phenol, 2-methoxy- 0.31
7 17.89 Phenol, 4-ethyl-2-methoxy- 0.04
8 21.06 Phenol, 2,6-dimethoxy- 0.18
9 26.99 Pentadecane 0.04
10 47.77 1-Tricosene 0.16
11 49.02 Hexacosane 3.33
12 51.00 Heptacosane (C27H56 MW=380) 5.23
13 57.25 Heptacosane 7.11
14 59.45 Octadecane 14.33
15 62.12 Tetracosane 14.83
16 62.52 2,6,10,14,18,22-Tetracosahexaene,2,6,10,15,19,23-hexamethyl- 0.39
17 64.25 Nonacosane (C29H60 MW=480) 18.19
18 64.49 Heptacosane 0.15
19 65.79 Nonacosane 20.57
20 66.27 Heptacosane 1.43
Total 88.35


Since this is a preliminary study, only GC-MS is used to study the chemical characterisation of the bio-
oil produced by pyrolysis process. GC-MS analysis was carried out in order to get an idea of the nature and type
of organic compounds in bio-oil products. Table 3 lists the tentative compound of pyrolysis liquid products
obtained from pyrolysis of OPT at 660oC, 2 mm feed size. Due to the lack of an appropriate standard mixture
calibration, this data obtained without calibration of the MS detector and these compounds identified by
comparing chromatogram with data stored in library database. Based on components identified as shown in
Table 3, it can be seen that the chemical compositions of pyrolysis bio-oils from OPT are very similar to the
inclusion of a lot of aromatics and oxygenated compounds such as carboxylic acids, phenols, ketons, etc.

Oil palm trunk was successfully converted into bio-oil, char and gas by means of pyrolysis. The liquid
product was maximum (18.7 wt% of OPT feedstock) at a reactor temperature of 600oC with particle size of 2
mm. Distribution of products was not affected by the size of feedstock. GC-MS analyses have shown that
carboxylic acid, phenol, alcohol and branched oxygenated hydrocarbon are the main compounds of bio-oil.
Based on observation, there was significant amount of water contained in the liquid products. Therefore, it needs
to be removed for biofuel production or chemical feedstock.

The authors would like to thank the University Teknologi MARA (UiTM), for giving the opportunity and
providing the facilities to successfully perform this study.

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