MLS 2.3: Oil Palm Plantations in Malaysia

Case Study: Can specially designed fertilizer products lead to more efficient P-use and can calcined phosphates from sewage sludge and biomass contribute to that goal and reduce the environmental footprint of palm oil production?

(Version 1*, May 2, 2013)

Malaysia imports 100% of P used in agriculture. Most soils are acidic with pH=3.5-4.5. Because of soil characteristics and frequent heavy rainfall, much P is lost to aquatic bodies essentially making water soluble P-fertilizers ineffective. Consequently, despite its relatively low value for fertilization, rock phosphate is used as P-fertilizer. Efficient phosphate fertilization of oil palm plantations on tropical soils remains a challenge.

The pot-test based (ETH Zürich Plant Nutrition Group) hypothesis is that non water-soluble calcined ph osphates from sewage sludge or biomass ash are more efficient on Malaysian soils and with a lower environmental footprint than the currently used rock phosphate. This translates into less use and over 90% lower cadmium and uranium transfer into soils.

The first oil palm plantation related case study is aimed at understanding the mechanisms and constraints of providing P-replenishment to Malaysian soils and simultaneously minimizing the environmental footprint. Another question to be investigated is whether lessons learned from the study in Malaysia could be transferred to other tropical areas with intensive agriculture.

The first task in this workshop is to perform agronomic tests for assessment of two calcined phosphates – one with magnesium-phosphate and the other with sodium-phosphate as their main ingredient - compared to zero phosphate and rock phosphate. This MLS aims to deepen the understanding of soil-fertilizer-plant mechanisms, agronomic requirements and the global and local preconditions for production of calcined phosphates, as well as of the milestones, critical control points and critical success factors needed for the study and the industrial implementation of the manufacturing process.

The primary challenge of the TD case study is to generate resilient knowledge on agronomic, environmental and economic impacts of using the calcined phosphate in comparison to existing fertilizing options and possible alternatives, the design of which will be based on the findings of the study. In addition to the obvious environmental benefit of importing fewer pollutants to soils, the impact should be valued in terms of monetary units. Ultimately, an investment decision in the order of 25 MEUR is necessary if calcined phosphates prove to be superior.

* This is the first version of the description of what will be dealt with in the MLS 2.3 Malaysia Palm Oil and provides only a rough description of what will be discussed. A group of practitioners and scientists are currently revising this abstract and composing a booklet which will prepare all participants for the MLS on June 18. Please contact Nils Droste <>, member of the TD Support team or Anh Pallas, Science manager of Global TraPs if you want to join <>.

Abstract/Description (5/2013)

Executive Summary of MLS 2.3 and DLS 3.5 of the 1st Global TraPs World Conference, Beijing 2013 (written 8/2013; released 3/2014)

The Executive Summary comprises the orientations discussed and identified in the joint Dialogue Session 3.3 & Mutual Learning 2.5. Nils Droste and Franziska Fischer (both MSc. students University of Oldenburg, Germany) and Oliver Gantner (PhD student, University of Augburg, Germany), facilitated this Dialogue Session of the 1st Global TraPs World Conference, July 18-20, 2013 and is responsible author of this summary. Nineteen people, eleven scienctists and eight practitioners collaborated in this joint session. For further questions, please contact Prof. Ulli Vilsmaier, Leuphana University, Lüneburg ( and Ludwig Herrmann, Outotec, Friedberg, Germany (