Journal of Environmental Treatment Techniques  
2020, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages: 1163-1167  
J. Environ. Treat. Tech.  
ISSN: 2309-1185  
Journal web link:  
Estimating Water Footprint of Palm Oil Production:  
Case Study in Malaysia  
, 2  
1, 2*  
1, 3  
Noor Salehan Mohammad Sabli , Zainura Zainon Noor , Kasturi Devi Kanniah , Siti  
Nurhayati Kamaruddin1  
Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Water Security (IPASA), Research Institute of Sustainable Environment (RISE), Universiti Teknologi  
Malaysia, 81310 Johor Bahru, Johor Darul Takzim, Malaysia  
School of Chemical and Energy Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, 81310 Skudai, Johor, Malaysia  
Department of Geoinformation, Faculty of Geoinformation & Real Estate, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, 81310 Skudai, Johor, Malaysia  
Received: 06/02/2020  
Accepted: 19/07/2020  
Published: 20/09/2020  
Malaysia is currently facing some issues in fulfilling the high demand in palm oil production, which inevitably led to a rapid expansion  
of palm oil industry in Malaysia. Therefore, water-related problems have become a major concern in environmental and social issues  
associated to palm oil industries. Inevitably, it is very important that the water consumption in this sector be analysed. Water footprint is  
one of the methods that can be used as a tool for sustaining appropriate freshwater resources. The main purpose of this study is to evaluate  
water footprint at palm oil mill from fresh fruit bunches to the production of crude palm oil. Water footprint revealed that the main  
potential impacts within the system boundary are dominated by water usage at the process through producing crude palm oil and  
wastewater effluent. At this stage, the total water input mainly comes from the nearest water resources such as rivers and lakes. In one  
operating day, the mill can produce wastewater of 3.81 m3/tonne of CPO. This amount is equivalent to 0.74 m3/tonne of average  
production rate of POME for each t of FFB process. At the end of this paper, strategies to optimise the use of water in palm oil mills are  
Keywords: Agricultural Industry, Water degradation, Water footprint, ISO 14046, Sustainable Palm Oil Plantation  
vision for a sustainable development in which food and  
agriculture, people’s livelihood and the management of natural  
resources are addressed as one (7). Following this trend, all  
stakeholders including companies should ensure that the palm  
oil industry is sustainably structured to enter global market.  
Malaysia, one of the members of Roundtable for Sustainable  
Palm Oil (RSPO), is regularly associated with some  
sustainability issues including carbon emissions, deforestation,  
biodiversity loss, habitat fragmentation, reduction of freshwater  
and soil quality. Freshwater reduction and pollution have  
become some of the major problems related to oil palm  
industries. To evaluate and connect the performance of an oil  
palm industries under the outlook of three sustainability pillars  
In Malaysia, oil palm plantation area production has  
markedly increased from 5.23 million ha in 2013 to 5.85 million  
ha in 2018 (1). Currently, after Indonesia, Malaysia is the second  
largest oil palm producer in the world with an oil palm planted  
area of 5.85 million ha. As one of the main contributors to the  
economic growth, annual high export of this industry was RM  
7.85 billion in 2017, which has increased from RM 67.92  
billion in 2016 (2). Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is cultivated in  
humid tropical regions in the world such as Indonesia, Malaysia,  
Thailand Columbia and Nigeria (3). This plant requires 100 mm  
of precipitation monthly or annual rainfall of 2000 mm and is  
able to tolerate drought period no longer than three months (4,  
(economic, social and environmental pillar), quantitative  
). Moreover, palm oil is semi-solid and can stand high  
indicators have been proposed as a suitable and effective mean.  
Among the indicators concerning the assessment of  
environmental impacts, water footprint describes the impacts of  
a system or product on water resources from quantitative and  
qualitative perspectives. The water footprint (WF) is a useful  
indicator to report on total water consumption, water scarcity  
level and reduction achieved after implementing response  
strategies. Hoekstra et al. (2011) introduced this concept, which  
was implemented through Water footprint Assessment (WFA).  
WFA is divided into three sub-indicators of WF:  
temperature (6).  
Overcoming the obstacles faced by the world, FAO has  
made the sustainability of food production as 2030 Agenda’s  
Coresponding author: Zainura Zainon Noor, (1) Centre for  
Environmental Sustainability and Water Security (IPASA),  
Research Institute of Sustainable Environment (RISE),  
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, 81310 Johor Bahru, Johor Darul  
Takzim, Malaysia. (2) School of Chemical and Energy  
Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Teknologi  
Malaysia, 81310 Skudai, Johor, Malaysia. E-mail:  
Green WF - water from rainwater is stored in the root zone  
and used by plants through evaporation, transpiration and  
Journal of Environmental Treatment Techniques  
2020, Volume 8, Issue 3, Pages: 1163-1167  
incorporation in the biomass.  
consumption in each step of palm oil mill. It was analysed using  
water balance approach by (12). In estimating this data, material  
balance by (13) was also used. For indirecting water use in palm  
oil mill, secondary data from (14) was used. Meanwhile, no  
water from rainwater or evapotranspiration is required at the  
palm oil mill. Usually, the water from these sources are used  
during nursery and plantation stage.  
Blue WF - irrigation water uptake by plants.  
Grey WF  amount of fresh water required to assimilate the  
critical pollutants to meet specific water quality standards.  
Studies related to WF have been improving over time and  
many methods have emerged for calculating and assessing  
possible environmental impacts from water consumption. In  
014, a research group of Water Use in Life Cycle Assessment  
WULCA) from UNEP-SETAC developed new water  
footprint framework. As defined in (8), LCA is a method used to  
assess possible environmental effects for a product or process  
over its entire life cycle. WF is a part of the whole LCA.  
Subsequently, the LCA-based WF includes the quantification of  
water effects related to freshwater use in terms of water  
availability footprint and water scarcity footprint as well as  
water quality in terms of ecotoxicity, eutrophication and  
acidification (9, 10). Both WFA and LCA are complement to  
each other and can be used to obtain sustainable freshwater.  
The objective of this study is to investigate the water  
footprint in the milling process of crude palm oil production at  
selection palm oil mills.  
Ʃ water consumption in  
each stage of CPO  
Ʃ quantity and quality  
of wastewater  
WF Production (WFPr  
WF Wastewater (WF )  
WF of Palm Oil Mill  
Materials and Methods  
This study assessed the Water Footprint (WF) of crude palm  
Figure 2: The Calculation Method of WF at Palm Oil Mill  
oil production according to the ISO 14046 standard, which  
adopted an LCA approach as the framework. The LCA  
framework consists of goal and scope definition, inventory  
analysis, environmental impact assessment and interpretation of  
the result (11). The whole process of this study is shown in  
Figure 1. This study adopted a functional unit of water required  
to produce 1 t crude palm oil. In determining WF at mill, the  
methods were divided into two categories, which were:  
For calculating wastewater that came out from CPO process,  
formula by (15) was used.  
WFw = (Ceffl - Cact)  
(Cmax - Cnat)  
= Effluent volume (volume/time)  
= Concentration of pollutant (mass/volume)  
Actual concentration of the intake water  
= Maximum concentration allowed (mass/volume)  
= Concentration in natural form (mass/volume)  
.1 Boundary of Study  
Figure 3 displays the diagram of the process in palm oil mill.  
The boundary of this study was until the production of crude  
palm oil (CPO). Therefore, the flow process is shown from the  
fresh fruit bunch to the sterilisation process where the bunches  
were fully cooked and the wet heat weakened the fruit stem,  
making it easy to remove the fruits from bunches by shaking or  
tumbling in the threshing machine. Then, the stripper was  
utilised to separate the fruits, nuts and fibre. After that, the fruits  
were sent to the digester. Digestion is the process of releasing  
the palm oil in the fruits through the rupture or breaking down of  
oil-bearing cells. At the clarification tank, fine suspended solids  
were separated and removed from crude oil. Raw crude oil from  
the settling tank (top oil) was combined with recovered oil from  
the treatment of the settling tank underflow. The flow process is  
highlighted with red arrow in Figure 3. Data for water input  
were given from the respondents using questionnaires and  
interview session. Primary and secondary data were used in this  
study. Primary data were collected by interviewing the  
stakeholders. Moreover, these data were collected based on  
direct observations at selected palm oil mills. Meanwhile, the  
secondary data were obtained by reviewing literature and  
Figure 1: LCA Framework including the Significant Steps for WF  
. Total water consumption in each stage of CPO process = WF  
process (WFPr).  
. Total quantity and quality of wastewater = WF wastewater  
WF ).  
Total consumption from both methods will be combined as  
total WF at mill (WF ). Simplified water calculation stage can  
be referred to Figure 2. The water footprint (WF) of the  
production (WFPr) was determined using the data of water