Elaeis guineensis (oil palm) is one of the most economical perennial oil crops for its valuable oil-producing fruits in tropical regions such as West Africa and South-East Asia. During oil extraction process, these fruits are usually stripped from the fruit bunches leaving behind empty bunches to be discarded as residues. Thus, empty fruit bunches (EFB) of Elaeis guineensis are usually considered as waste in the oil palm industry. The abundance of oil palm empty fruit bunches (OPEFB) has created enormous environmental issue, ranging from fouling, attraction of pests, greenhouse gas emissions to soil acidification, thus posing very serious threats to humans and the environment. Globally, in 2014 alone, over 22.4 million tons of EFB were estimated to have been produced. Therefore, exploring eco-friendly disposal methods and productive utilisation of oil palm EFB as alternative fibrous material for papermaking becomes imperative in converting waste to wealth, and initiating environmental wellness. Elaeis guineensis empty fruit bunch (EFB) fibre on the average measures 0.99 μm in length, while the fibre diameter and cell wall thickness are 19.1 μm and 3.38 μm respectively. Fibres of EFB are of ligno-cellulosic materials, consisting on the average of an estimated cellulosic content of 30–50%, 15–35% of hemicelluloses and the lignin constituting about 20–30% of extractive-free fibre. The rich cellulose base of EFB fibre makes Elaeis guineensis a good potential resource for papermaking furnish moreso that the pulp and paper industry is often referred to as the cellulose industry. Every 5 tons of EFB gives 1 ton of pulp for papermaking. This book chapter will therefore attempt to examine the fibre morphological characteristics of oil palm empty fruit bunch, the chemical properties of EFB fibre, papermaking potentials of empty fruit bunches and ultimately their impact on the environment.
Part of the book: Elaeis guineensis