Journal of Environmental Treatment Techniques  
2020, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages: 1046-1053  
J. Environ. Treat. Tech.  
ISSN: 2309-1185  
Journal web link: http://www.jett.dormaj.com  
Environmental Sustainability Assessment Approach  
for Palm Oil Production in Malaysia  
1
1,2*  
3
4
Siti Nur Atikah Yahya , Norhayati Abdullah , Norasikin Ahmad Ludin , Ali Yuzir , Shaza  
Eva Mohamad and Iwamoto Koji1  
1
1
Algal Biomass iKOHZA, Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology (MJIIT), Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA  
2
UTM International, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA  
3
Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Selangor, MALAYSIA  
4
Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Center, Malaysia-Japan International Institute of Technology (MJIIT), Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA  
Received: 12/02/2020  
Accepted: 26/06/2020  
Published: 20/09/2020  
Abstract  
Malaysia began introducing several sustainability practices to be able to fulfil requirements of foreign legislation that demands stringent  
measures in minimizing environmental impact of products and services throughout their life cycles. This includes participation during 2006  
for the National Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) program to support national eco-labelling program. This voluntary-based action correlates  
with the government's aim to achieve United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 12 and 13 which are responsible consumption  
and production and climate action in reducing carbon footprint while using processes that are environmentally friendly. This study  
demonstrates in general how LCA approach is applied to palm oil milling and refinery to determine the potential environmental impacts on  
these processes by using ReCiPe 2016 method and SimaPro 8.4.0 software. Primary data were retrieved via site-visit to a palm oil mill and  
a refinery plant. Data gap were supported by database from previous studies. Based on the findings, palm oil milling contributes the most  
significant impact which were global warming potential (GWP), freshwater eutrophication (FEP) and fossil fuel scarcity (FFP) at midpoint  
level. Alternative scenario of full utilization of biomass waste and biogas capture for palm oil milling showed a range of 10% to 20% reduction  
for ecosystem quality (ED) while 20% to 30% reduction for resource availability (RA) and human health (HH) at endpoint level. The survey  
on perception of LCA implementation at industrial level indicated that it is still uncommon due to lack of application and insufficient  
knowledge among industry players on its utilization.  
Keywords: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Palm oil production, Sustainability, Sustainable development goals  
Introduction1  
performance in meeting the needs of those in the future [3].  
1
Malaysia palm oil industry began its sustainability initiatives with  
introduction of environmental law to protect the land from  
deforestation and land-use change, participation as a member of  
the established Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO),  
sustainability schemes and implementation of Best Management  
Practices (BMP) for palm oil plantation. Recently, application of  
primary tools through environmental management and life cycle  
assessment (LCA) has further reflected the importance of  
environmental sustainability in palm oil industry [4].  
The start of a vigorous palm oil trading came from the search  
of biofuel, a promising renewable energy to replace the finite  
source of fossil fuel due to suitable weather conditions, high yield  
and cost-effective production. Malaysia saw the promising future  
of biodiesel and ventured into the business of palm oil and  
managed to rank second as a world palm oil producer [1]  
accounting for 39% of world production and 44% of world export.  
Consequently, the rapid growth of supply-demand caused  
Malaysia palm oil industry to face several environmental issues  
which often been raised by non-profit organizations (NGOs) and  
green activist [2] which triggered Malaysia’s government to take  
a step further by introducing sustainability concept in order to  
provide possible solution to minimize existing problems.  
The sustainability concept is adopted from the United Nation’s  
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda 2030 whereby  
that focuses on SDG 12 and 13; responsible consumption and  
production and climate action. A sustainable supply chain system  
or product is achieved when the needs and aspirations of the  
current generation are attained without compromising the  
1
.1 Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)  
A sustainability assessment tool namely LCA is utilized to  
monitor environmental trade-offs in a product or system. LCA is  
methodological assessment supervised by international series of  
ISO 14000 standards to assist in creating products and  
technologies that are environmentally friendly and for the purpose  
of impact evaluation on the environment [5]. Started in 2006,  
Malaysia participated in the National Life Cycle Assessment  
Project that prolonged for five years to execute several outputs  
Corresponding author: Norhayati Abdullah, UTM International, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA, E-  
mail: norhayati@utm.my.  
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Journal of Environmental Treatment Techniques  
2020, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages: 1046-1053  
when Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010) ended [4].  
as background database located in the software that was used to  
produce environmental impact results. The scope of this study  
involved two system boundaries (SBs) which were milling and  
refinery stages. Both system boundaries involved private mills  
which do not have their own plantation and fresh fruit bunches  
(FFB) are obtained from other plantation companies. The  
databases were collected from input and output of milling stage  
(SB I) as well as input and output of refinery stage (SB II).  
Allocation assumption was necessary in attributional LCA  
modelling since both SBs produce co-products.  
Malaysia Palm Oil Berhad (MPOB) was the first to conduct  
full LCA on a crude palm oil production to serve as baseline  
information for any interested entities in the industry to  
implement LCA for their palm oil production [6]. Although there  
exist several LCA studies specifically focused on Malaysia’s  
palm oil production, most of the studies targeted on nursery and  
plantation stages only due to the rise of deforestation and  
biodiversity loss issues. Malaysia palm oil industry cannot claim  
that their palm oil making processes are hundred percent  
sustainable if the whole processes are not equally monitored for  
their environmental performance on daily basis. Moreover, the  
insufficient environmental database on palm oil production could  
also be the reason implementation of LCA on industrial level in  
Malaysia palm oil industry is still a voluntary-based action.  
Hence, this paper intends to produce another LCA study of palm  
oil production in Malaysia particularly on other stages than  
nursery and plantation in palm oil production with the hope to  
broaden the availability of environmental database and a brief  
online survey is conducted to determine the current  
implementation of LCA in palm oil production in Malaysia.  
2.2 Database collection and analysis method  
In inventory analysis, a functional unit (FU) served as a  
reference basis where all resources and emissions compiled are  
converted into a specific system under investigation [8]. For SB I  
and SB II, the FU were 1 ton of fresh fruit bunches (FFB)  
processed and 1 ton of crude palm oil (CPO) processed  
respectively. Product’s mass was used for allocation process of  
the inputs and outputs flow. In terms of selection of mills and  
refinery plant, the factors include type of mills (with or without  
plantation), processing capacity and location to suits previous  
studies’ conditions in order to make the secondary database  
relevant to the current study [6][8][9]. Figure 2 represents the  
input and output based on the functional units stated for SB I and  
SB II.  
2
Material and methods  
In this study, LCA framework is used to access environmental  
performance of milling and refinery stages in palm oil production.  
A brief survey also has been conducted via dispersing online  
questionnaire to a specific colony of respondents to determine the  
familiarity of LCA among people whose work are closely related  
to palm oil sector in Malaysia. There are basically four  
components involved in conducting LCA of palm oil production  
which are goal and scope definition, life cycle inventory (LCI),  
life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) and lastly, interpretation of  
the impact assessment [7]. The steps are illustrated in Figure 1.  
Main products  
Crude palm oil  
Co-products  
Empty Fruit  
Bunches (EFB)  
Mesocarp fiber  
Shell  
0.20 ton  
0.200 ton  
0.165 ton  
0.089 ton  
0.053 ton  
Materials and fuels  
FFB  
1.0 ton  
Diesel  
30 Mega-  
Kernel  
Joule  
Resources  
Water  
Palm oil mill  
effluent (POME)  
Emissions  
Methane (biogenic)  
kilogram  
0.360 ton  
623 Liter  
SB I  
6.73  
Energy  
Steam turbine  
Joule  
0.8 Mega-  
Literature  
Carbon dioxide  
(
biogenic)  
12.20 kilogram  
0.006  
Transport  
Lorry/ truck  
Boiler ash  
kilogram  
Methodology  
Flue gas from stack  
Particulate matter  
kilogram  
0.226  
0.042  
Functional Unit  
Carbon monoxide  
Goal & Scope definition  
System  
Materials and fuels  
Crude palm oil  
Phosphoric acid  
kilogram  
Bleaching earth  
kilogram  
Resources  
Water  
Energy  
Electricity  
Main products  
Refined palm oil  
Palm fatty acid  
Distillate  
Water emissions  
Wastewater  
1.0 ton  
0.45  
33.25 ton  
0.051 ton  
150 Liter  
Inventory Analysis  
Databases from:  
Literature  
review  
8.0  
Alternative  
scenario; compare  
the environmental  
Foreground  
data  
SB II  
Spent bleaching earth 10.0  
kilogram  
Impact Assessment  
Interpretation  
Reporting  
350 Liter  
4.0  
1
Wastewater BOD  
4.21  
loads  
from  
resulting  
CPO  
kilogram Wastewater COD2  
Kilowatt-hour  
Transport  
Lorry/truck  
2.10 kilogram  
production  
from  
mills with and  
without biogas  
capture, with and  
without full  
Notes:  
Perform modelling  
via SimaPro  
Figure 2: Inventory analysis of system boundary 1 (SB I) and system  
boundary 2 (SB II)  
Figure 1: Process flowchart of LCA methodology  
The questionnaire to obtain primary data directly from the  
representative of palm oil mill and refinery plant were developed  
according to the standard procedures in ISO 14041 (1998) [10].  
Some of the necessary information include detailed process  
flowchart, the input and output flows of the analysed product. In  
general, the complete chain of palm oil production starts from  
Based on Figure 1, the goal of this study was to build inventory  
for milling and refinery stages based on primary and secondary  
databases. To obtain primary data, site visit to a local palm oil  
mill and a palm oil refinery plant were conducted and data gaps  
were supported by relevant database from previous studies as well  
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