Modelling microwave heating of discrete samples of oil palm kernels
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Recently, microwave (MW) pre-treatment of fresh palm fruits has showed to be environmentally friendly compared to the existing oil palm milling process as it eliminates the condensate production of palm oil mill effluent (POME) in the sterilization process. Moreover, MW-treated oil palm fruits (OPF) also possess better oil quality. In this work, the MW drying kinetic of the oil palm kernels (OPK) was determined experimentally. Microwave heating/drying of oil palm kernels was modelled and validated. The simulation results show that temperature of an OPK is not the same over the entire surface due to constructive and destructive interferences of MW irradiance. The volume-averaged temperature of an OPK is higher than its surface temperature by 3-7°C, depending on the MW input power. This implies that point measurement of temperature reading is inadequate to determine the temperature history of the OPK during the microwave heating process. The simulation results also show that arrangement of OPKs in a MW cavity affects the kernel temperature profile. The heating of OPKs were identified to be affected by factors such as local electric field intensity due to MW absorption, refraction, interference, the contact effect between kernels and also heat transfer mechanisms. The thermal gradient patterns of OPKs change as the heating continues. The cracking of OPKs is expected to occur first in the core of the kernel and then it propagates to the kernel surface. The model indicates that drying of OPKs is a much slower process compared to its MW heating. The model is useful to design a microwave reactor which can be used to dry a large quantity of OPKs more effectively.
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