Study on Novel and Practical Fruit Grading and Oil Quality Monitoring Technology in Palm Oil Mills

A novel method for detection of free fatty acid in crude palm oil


Palm oil is most-consumed vegetable oil in the world among all vegetable oils, accounting for about 33% of total vegetable oil production (2011/2012, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service). Among different palm oil producing countries, Malaysia is the second largest producer of palm oil, producing up to 18,400 thousand metric tons with an export of nearly 86% (2011/2012, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service). The palm oil industry contributes significantly to the economy of Malaysia, which has more than two-third of its agricultural land (4.05 million hectares) under oil palm tree plantation. There is a constant demand for the production of high quality palm oil with lower production costs. The maturity or ripeness of the oil palm fruits dictates the quality of palm oil produced and overall marketability. One of the challenges in processing of fruits during oil production is the grading of oil palm fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) for their maturity. The conventional method involves manual detection of FFB maturity or counting of number of loosened fruits per bunch. The manual sorting of oil palm fresh fruit bunches is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process resulting in bias and human error, which drastically affects the growers’ profitability. Therefore, there is a need for a reliable, rapid, and accurate sensing technique for the detection of oil palm FFB maturity.

This project shall focus on the development of automated grading system based on microwave and optical technique for the determination of the quality of oil palm fruits and bunches at the mills. For microwave technique, the grading system shall be based on the relationship between actual oil content, moisture content and microwave reflection coefficient. The project shall involve both theoretical and experimental works. As for the optical technique, Near Infrared (NIR) and Visible spectra will be utilized for the detection system. The second part of the project will be a study on Free Fatty Acid (FFA) monitoring in FFB and extracted oil. Quality of palm oil is determined by various factors and free fatty acid (FFA) is one of the most frequently determined quality indices during production, storage and marketing (price dictated by FFA content). Currently FFA is determined by manual titration of the sample against potassium hydroxide in hot 2-propanol solution, using phenolphthalein as indicator. The method, however, uses large amounts of organic solvents and involves manual operation. Therefore alternative cheaper, greener and practical method is required for FFA monitoring. For monitoring of FFA in extracted oil, we proposed to study utilization of enzymatic reaction via flow analysis for real time detection of FFA in extracted oil.