The usage of natural resources has spiked up rapidly due to the tremendous increase in the global population. The vast number of resources consumed generally results in more waste. It is anticipated that by 2050, worldwide municipal solid waste (MSW) will be over 3.40 billion metric tonnes (MT) (Ellis, 2018). Food waste dominated the highest percentage, followed by paper and paperboard, plastic, yard trimmings, and metals (The World Bank, 2021). These wastes are usually disposed of in landfills but may be recycled, composted, or utilized in energy recovery.
Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand are the leading producers of palm oil, accounting for more than 90% of the global market in total, with Malaysia accounting for 25.9% of global production and 33.7% of global palm oil exports in 2019 (MPCO, 2021; Zafar, 2021). In palm oil plantations, fresh fruit bunch is employed as a raw material; however, only 23% of the raw material is utilized to make palm oil, with the remainder being trash (Aziz et al., 2015). Most waste landfills are located far from cities. Therefore, a high operating cost for waste transportation and disposal is associated with palm oil wastes, including empty fruit bunch (EFB), fibers, and nutshells (Aziz et al., 2015). In certain scenarios, open-ended burning is used to dispose of EFB trash, causing huge environmental difficulties, including global warming potential (GWP) and air pollution (Ninduangdee and Kuprianov, 2016). These EFB may also be reused as biomass, reducing the processing plant's economic and environmental burdens. Since EFB biomass is low in sulphur, it reduces GWP and air pollution (Ninduangdee and Kuprianov, 2016). Furthermore, EFB may be processed into high-value products such as glucose, xylitol, levulinic acid, and vanillin (Hafyan et al., 2020). In addition, it may be chemically processed into ethanol, furfural, and lactic acid and converted into energy such as bio-oil, biogas, bioethanol, and methane (Geng, 2013).
Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand generated 27 million MT of EFB in 2019 (Zafar, 2021). Since EFB is readily available in Malaysia, it is an inexpensive renewable energy source (Alaw and Sulaiman, 2019). These EFB may be further processed to extract valuable food and chemicals; hence, promoting resource conservation and sustainable processes (Alaw and Sulaiman, 2019). However, there is still much waste to date, even if many plants use the EFB to manufacture foods, chemicals, or energy. This is because the existing process plant only valorizes a particular component in EFB such as cellulose or hemicellulose only. This procedure also requires many separations, increasing the capital cost. To overcome this, lignocellulosic biomass may be processed into numerous products in a single plant in an integrated way. For an integrated process plant producing both food and chemicals, glucose and furfural are selected as end products because they may be produced in a single facility with minimal equipment. Moreover, the residual lignin may be used as a fuel for boilers to supply heat energy. Hence, the plant's economic and environmental impacts are reduced as a result of maximizing EFB's potential.
Currently, only a few studies have worked on an integrated process plant employing EFB, where theoretical data is used to generate findings. Ajiwibowo et al. (2019) developed an integrated system to convert EFB to hydrogen and ammonia. Although their system can produce hydrogen and ammonia efficiently, their study only focused on energy analysis, without sufficient techno-economic analysis. In addition, an ethanol production system using EFB as feedstock has been developed and analyzed by Piarpuzán et al. (2011). Their work did not focus on developing an integrated system. Vargas-Mira et al. (2019) have compared and evaluated different routes of conversion technologies for hydrogen production from EFB.
On the other hand, Contreras-Zarazúa et al. (2022) have proposed furfural production utilizing agricultural residues. Their techno-economic analysis showed that furfural production from wheat straw through combined dilute acid pretreatment and thermally coupled distillation led to the lowest cost and environmental impacts. Furthermore, Hossain et al. (2019) have proposed a co-production system for bioethanol and furfural from corn stover, combining both biochemical and thermal pretreatment. Heat integration has been conducted, and the system showed feasible economic profitability. Unfortunately, those previous studies are not solely dedicated to converting EFB to glucose and furfural. Also, the process conditions were not optimized to maximize the production rate and purity. Existing research also lacks modelling data and production rates for integrated processes. The process design and optimization may also assist in achieving the requisite product purity. In addition, existing work lacks economic analysis and profitability to assess an integrated plant's viability. Therefore, this work aims to use simulation to obtain the mass and energy balance for optimizing the integrated process and perform an economic analysis to identify the overall profitability and plant viability.
Converting EFB components into value-added products reduces waste generation and promotes a circular economy. Using process simulation of Aspen Plus (Aspen Technology Inc.), the production rate, purity, and flowrate of the product may be calculated and adjusted to reduce raw material consumption and eventually reduce the capital cost. When evaluating the profitability of the integrated plant, it helps to compare the main cost drivers of the integrated plant. Furthermore, sensitivity analyses may optimize production parameters such as capacity and fixed capital. Overall, the plant viability can be determined by the process sustainability and profitability.