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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Borneo, Indonesia, and Ojai, California, USA

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Borneo, Indonesia, and Ojai, California, USA
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Registered: December 2016
City/Town/Province: Corralitos
Posts: 1
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A Sustainable Palm Oil Industry:
Alternative Palm Waste Disposal Method Using Commercial Cellulase

I developed and refined a procedure to degrade palm oil plantation waste in order to reduce the detrimental effects of the palm oil industry. The objective of this project was to improve the sustainability of the palm oil industry by diverting palm waste from environmentally degrading disposal techniques. This study aimed to determine if commercial cellulase could be used to degrade palm waste without pretreatment, and to develop a precise and repeatable procedure for degradation. Having more information about potential waste diversion techniques for palm oil processing could enable increased sustainability for this industry that is core to the Indonesian and Malaysian economy.
My passion for science started early. At ten years old, I visited the rainforests of Borneo with my family for the first time. Immersed in environmental destruction on an incomprehensible scale, I was disgusted and ashamed, enraged and afraid to the point of disbelief. Despair was my jumping off point, I plunged into action. I started my non-profit and linked my twin passions, science and environmental activism together.
In the last seven years, I have pursued independent scientific research within the field of Bornean orangutan and rainforest conservation, winning awards at ISEF, Google Science Fair and California State Science Fair. I have conducted a field study on the effects of deforestation on river water quality in Borneo, and developed mathematical models of orangutan populations in order to assess the effects of specific threats and develop a policy designed to protect the species from extinction. In this years project I worked to find solutions for the growing problem with palm waste.
The Bornean rainforest is rapidly being destroyed, primarily driven by land conversion to palm oil plantations. The effects of this agriculture spread beyond deforestation, as its processing and subsequent waste disposal pollute the surrounding ecosystem. However, this industry is central to the economies of Indonesia and Malaysia. The objective of this study is to improve the sustainability of the palm oil industry by diverting palm waste from environmentally degrading disposal techniques. This study aims to determine if commercial cellulase can be used to degrade palm waste (Elaeis guineensis) without pretreatment, and to develop a precise and repeatable procedure for degradation.
The degradability of palm kernel shells (PKS) and empty fiber bunches (EFB) were analyzed over the course of 12 experiments, through which an efficient biomass preparation and degradation procedure were developed. Parameters including incubation temperature, agitation frequency, pH buffer, liquid to solid ratio, enzyme concentration, and sample volume were varied by experiment. The success of the digestion of each sample was analyzed based on its change in brix, as well as visual degradation.
Some substrates tested were able to be easily degraded, including ground almond and paper towel, which were used to develop testing procedure and serve as positive controls. However, the EFB and PKS exhibited a certain amount of recalcitrance. Although increases in sugar content of samples were achieved, the substrates themselves were not easily degraded by the enzyme, even after procedure modifications to attain optimal conditions. However, significant progress was made towards the objective of achieving precision in the procedure. The optimal final procedure, addressing both objectives, consisted of an experiment performed in triplicate, incubating the samples for a duration of 12 hours in a 50 degree C incubator with agitation at regular intervals, and employing a pH 5 buffer.
Recalcitrance during digestion and the fairly aggressive preparation required in order to be homogenized before incubation suggest that both EFB and PKS may require pretreatment in the form of acid, heat, or steam, before degradation by the enzyme.
Conducting independent research, in a lab I built myself at my high school, I spent late nights and early morning hours outside of class, running tests to determine ideal parameters, conducting trials, and analyzing data. Although this project could be time consuming and occasionally frustrating, I was invigorated by the discovery and hands-on nature of my work. Because I was doing real science, focusing on creating solutions to environmental issues. This work has instilled in me a great sense of purpose and joy associated with scientific endeavors towards environmental conservation, and the way humans can reduce their environmental degradation.
Although I loved my time spent in the lab and in the field I have been plagued by doubts about our environmental path forward. Is science alone enough? If we investigate, innovate, publish, shout from the rooftops-- will our efforts catalyze change? Science for humanity takes balance. Compelling studies must be narrow and specific to pinpoint problems and strive towards insight. Solutions, however, require a wider view; a perspective that does not overlook or erase individuals or groups that are often marginalized. In my field of environmental management, it is critical to also pursue environmental justice. By allowing my passion for social justice to intertwine and fuel my science, a more holistic approach to finding opportunities emerges. It may be impossible to find answers that benefit everyone, but I must use my power and privilege to advocate for people whose own voices are suppressed. I am fascinated by refining these questions, embracing the uncertainties, awake in the night.
Date: December 29, 2016 Views: 4471 File size: 20.1kb, 158.3kb : 640 x 447
Hours Volunteered: 500
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17
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