12 August 2015

Palm Oil Processing Special Interest Group (POP SIG) launch

POP Special Interest Group

The Palm Oil Processing Special Interest Group (POP SIG), the first IChemE SIG outside of the UK, was launched on 3 August 2015 in Kuala Lumpur at the University of Nottingham Teaching Centre. The event was attended by an enthusiastic crowd of 65 chemical engineers and friends.

Mr B P Chow, immediate past chairman of IChemE in Malaysia, in launching POP SIG, said: “Chemical engineers are needed to bring the palm oil industry to the next level as spelled out in Malaysia’s palm oil sector National Key Economic Area (NKEA). There are opportunities to grow, develop and improve this industry and chemical engineers, especially the young ones, will find it particularly exciting and challenging in this new (palm) oil and gas industry.”

POP SIG committee members unveiled a fresh fruit bunch (FFB) revealing Malaysia’s golden crop. Many members in the audience were seeing a palm oil fruit for the first time in their lives.

Mr Hong Wai Onn, currently a project manager, passionately delivered the evening’s talk “Transformation of Palm Oil Industry – The New Oil and Gas”. He traced the history of oil palms to 3000 BC in West Africa. More recently it was introduced to the then Malaya in 1875 with the first commercial scale plantation in 1917 in Tennamaran Estate in Selangor. Although Indonesia has overtaken Malaysia as the top producer of palm oil, Malaysia remains the top exporter in the world. In the last two years it has lost out to oil and gas as Malaysia’s third and fourth export revenue earner but it will regain this position this year as it is a recession proof commodity. People will always need food.

Hong focused his talk on the milling process and gave numerous examples of the contributions chemical engineers in his organization have made in processing, energy management, process automation, effluent, use of biomass and biogas and also process safety.

In answering a question from the audience on a personal level Hong said his first job posting was at a mill 5 hours by road from Sandakan in Sabah. He stayed in the mill because he wanted to learn something. “A jack of all trades is better than a master of none” as in a remote area you need to be really self reliant. In the palm oil industry you are exposed to many areas, not only process control but people management, you have to know the labour laws and accounts (operational costs and profit). It appears to have all the ingredients to quickly become a chartered chemical engineer.

In closing the evening, Hong, as chair of POP SIG announced the next event which is on 19 October 2015 and will be an evening talk delivered by Mr Chow - Biogas: The Sustainable Energy from and for the Palm Oil Industry. There is also a webinar in the pipeline. After all palm oil is used everywhere in the world. The POP SIG welcomes the setting up branches outside of Malaysia.

Comments from the audience

Dato’ Hj Mohd Nizam Abdul Malik, Director, Business Development, Amec Foster Wheeler “I got a good first look at the palm oil industry and its future directions. I am particularly interested in products from biomass materials.”

Sudershan Sivasubramaniam, Plant Manager, Emery Oleochemicals “ A great event to expose the upcoming chemical engineers on the value of chemical engineering in the palm oil industry. Certainly eye opening to showcase that the palm oil industry is as ‘sexy’ as the oil and gas industry.”

Wendy Lau, MD, A.P. Transearch Wendy Lau Sdn Bhd “ The POP SIG event was organized extremely well and benefitted the audience that comprised students as well as seasoned professionals. It was highly informative from an academic point of view as well us some points on the current scenario in the palm oil industry.”

Philip C Reidy, Principal Consultant, Geosyntec Consultants “Mr Hong (and Mr Chow) are wonderful speakers. The talk is very informative and inspiring.”

Dr Babak Salamati, Senior Lecturer, Monash University Malaysia “The most sure thing in this presentation was palm oil is the future oil & gas.”

Low Jia Ming, Year 3 chemical engineering undergraduate, Monash University Malaysia “I would like to request for an internship in the palm oil industry. Good speaker!!”


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