Utilization of Date Palm Biomass

Date palm trees produce huge amount of agricultural wastes in the form of dry leaves, stems, pits, seeds etc. A typical date tree can generate as much as 20 kilograms of dry leaves per annum while date pits account for almost 10 percent of date fruits.


Date palm biomass is found in large quantities across the Middle East

Date palm is considered a renewable natural resource because it can be replaced in a relatively short period of time. It takes 4 to 8 years for date palms to bear fruit after planting, and 7 to 10 years to produce viable yields for commercial harvest. Usually date palm wastes are burned in farms or disposed in landfills which cause environmental pollution in dates-producing nations.

The major constituents of date palm biomass are cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. In addition, date palm has high volatile solids content and low moisture content. These factors make date palm residues an excellent biomass resource in date-palm producing nations.

Date palm biomass is an excellent resource for charcoal production in Middle East

A wide range of physico-chemical, thermal and biochemical technologies exists for sustainable utilization of date palm biomass. Apart from charcoal production and energy conversion (using technologies like combustion and gasification), below are few ways for utilization of date palm wastes:

Conversion into fuel pellets or briquettes

Biomass pellets are a popular type of alternative fuel (analogous to coal), generally made from wood wastes and agricultural biomass. The biomass pelletization process consists of multiple steps including pre-treatment, pelletization and post-treatment of biomass wastes. Biomass pellets can be used as a coal replacement in power plant, industries and other application.

Conversion into energy-rich products

Biomass pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of date palm biomass occurring in the absence of oxygen. The products of biomass pyrolysis include biochar, bio-oil and gases including methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.

Depending on the thermal environment and the final temperature, pyrolysis will yield mainly biochar at low temperatures, less than 450 0C, when the heating rate is quite slow, and mainly gases at high temperatures, greater than 800 0C, with rapid heating rates. At an intermediate temperature and under relatively high heating rates, the main product is bio-oil.

Bio-oil can be upgraded to either a special engine fuel or through gasification processes to a syngas which can then be processed into biofuels. Bio-oil is particularly attractive for co-firing because it can be more readily handled and burned than solid fuel and is cheaper to transport and store.

Conversion into biofertilizer

Composting is the most popular method for biological decomposition of organic wastes. Date palm waste has around 80% organic content which makes it very well-suited for the composting process. Commercial-scale composting of date palm wastes can be carried out by using the traditional windrow method or a more advanced method like vermicomposting.

Biogas from Agricultural Wastes

The main problem with anaerobic digestion of agricultural wastes is that most of the agricultural residues are lignocellulosic with low nitrogen content. To obtain biogas from agricultural wastes, pre-treatment methods like size reduction, electron irradiation, heat treatment, enzymatic action etc are necessary. For optimizing the C/N ratio of agricultural residues, co-digestion with sewage sludge, animal manure or poultry litter is recommended.

Types of Agricultural Wastes

Several organic wastes from plants and animals have been exploited for biogas production as reported in the literature. Plant materials include agricultural crops such as sugar cane, cassava, corn etc, agricultural residues like rice straw, cassava rhizome, corn cobs etc, wood and wood residues (saw dust, pulp wastes, and paper mill waste)

Others include molasses and bagasse from sugar refineries, waste streams such as rice husk from rice mills and residues from palm oil extraction and municipal solid wastes, etc. However, plant materials such as crop residues are more difficult to digest than animal wastes (manures) because of difficulty in achieving hydrolysis of cellulosic and lignocellulosic constituents.

Codigestion of Crop Wastes

Crop residues can be digested either alone or in co-digestion with other materials, employing either wet or dry processes. In the agricultural sector one possible solution to processing crop biomass is co-digested together with animal manures, the largest agricultural waste stream.

In addition to the production of renewable energy, controlled anaerobic digestion of animal manures reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen and odour from manure management, and intensifies the recycling of nutrients within agriculture.

In co-digestion of plant material and manures, manures provide buffering capacity and a wide range of nutrients, while the addition of plant material with high carbon content balances the carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratio of the feedstock, thereby decreasing the risk of ammonia inhibition.

The gas production per digester volume can be increased by operating the digesters at a higher solids concentration. Batch high solids reactors, characterized by lower investment costs than those of continuously fed processes, but with comparable operational costs, are currently applied in the agricultural sector to a limited extent.

Codigestion offers good opportunity to farmers to treat their own waste together with other organic substrates. As a result, farmers can treat their own residues properly and also generate additional revenues by treating and managing organic waste from other sources and by selling and/or using the products viz heat, electrical power and stabilised biofertiliser.