Biomass for soil, crop growth and biobased economy in oil palm Malaysia and Colombia


Oil palm cultivation is an important means of life for millions of smallholders but also a large plantation business. Currently oil palm is cultivated as monoculture. During its cultivation the plantation needs to be weeded, trees need to be pruned, and fresh fruit bunches are exported from the plantation to a mill for oil extraction. Furthermore the crops receive fertilizer or manure to support their fruit production. There are hence different sources of biomass identified related to oil palm production and each of these contain nutrients and carbon. Aiming at sustainable palm oil the optimum use of the nutrients and carbon are key. Biomass such as prunings are currently used as mulch in the plantation but could also serve as animal feed or be exported from the plantation to serve as resource for the biobased economy. Equally the destiny of the waste of the mill is important as it could be returned to the plantation or for instance used as source of energy.

The research proposed is first a literature research about different biomass sources and their nutrient and carbon content. Secondly, to identify the alternative uses of these sources. Thirdly, which biomass sources, in which amount or form are needed to maintain or enhance the productivity of the oil palm plantation. Or in other words which and how much biomass can be used in biobased economy without negative feedback on the plantation. 

We already have a preliminary nutrient cycling model that needs upgrading. We have research outputs by two PhD students that did measurements on carbon flows in oil palm plantation in relation to management and soil type. 

-       Our first focus is on the best management of the cut trunk at replanting. 

-       Our second aim is to make a nutrient cycling model, including all nutrient sources, in relation to management of plantation and the mill. 

-       Our next aim is to make a carbon cycling model, including all carbon sources in relation to management of plantation and the mill.

-       Our final aim is to being able to assess what can best be done with biomass of palm oil production (and processing) based on palm nutrient needs, GHG emissions and economics. 


We work together with Malaysian Oil Palm Board and Cedipalma Colombia


General PPS thesis prerequisites apply. Good background on nutrient and carbon cycling needed. Affinity with modelling is a benefit for this topic. For the topic in Colombia, Spanish speaking is a huge advantage.

Location and Period

Wageningen (for literature research) and perhaps Malaysia or Colombia for sampling and measurement of fractions of biomass of which we cannot find data in literature.As soon as possible


Maja Slingerland                                0317 483512                 

Lotte Wottiez                                                                            

Wolter Elbersen (AFSG - Biobased Research)