08/05/2009 (The Star Online), Petaling Jaya - Local palm oil millers have voiced concern over the repercussions in introducing new technologies that are claimed to be able to significantly boost the oil extraction rate (OER).
Palm Oil Millers Association (POMA) president Steven Yow said most of its members were generally receptive towards the Government’s call to boost the stagnant OER, especially in Peninsular Malaysia where it has been below 20% over the past 20 years.
“However, many have turned sceptical following some failures and losses experienced by those who have adopted these new technologies,” he told StarBiz.
Of late, the Government has been pushing millers to embrace new technologies – such as continuous sterilisation, vertical steriliser and indexer system – that are claimed capable of giving better OER performance than the conventional horizontal sterilisation process.
Currently, over 90% of the 406 palm oil mills in Malaysia are using the horizontal sterilisation method introduced in the 1960s.
“Some affected millers claim that they are getting less OER – at 17.5% – using the new vertical steriliser method, instead of 19.2% to 19.3% OER via the conventional one,” Yow said.
He said the new technologies tested by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) were based on trial palm oil mills running at a capacity of 10 to 15 tonnes per hour.
“However, this is not applicable to most commercial mills in Malaysia, which on average have 40 to 60 tonnes per hour capacity,” added Yow.
Another reason for the millers’ reluctance to switch could be due to the high capital cost, averaging RM3mil to RM5mil, said Yow.
“Independent millers cannot afford to close down their outfit for six months just to convert to this risky processing method, especially during the current hard times,” he said.
Meanwhile, MPOB chairman Datuk Sabri Ahmad maintained that embracing the new technologies would be the way forward.
MPOB has held separate seminars to explain the merits of the vertical steriliser, continuous sterilisation and indexer system to palm oil millers.
Citing the joint-venture indexer system method, Sabri said: “We have received positive results from millers, especially in terms of higher OER, and reduction in labour versus the conventional method.”
He believes that some millers were too comfortable with the old method to quickly convert to the new ones.
“Of course, there will be teething problems in setting up the new technology; One must also realise that the efficiency of the OER does not depend solely on technology, it must be supported with the fruit quality and proper management of the mills,” he added.
One industry source said the conventional method actually took about 10 years to be perfected.
Of Malaysia’s total crude palm oil production, 30% is contributed by Felda, Risda and other related government agencies, 30% from MPOA members and 40% from private independent mills.