Oil palm recycling project pays off for Yeo


BY IZATUN SHARI

HER inquisitive nature and never-up spirit have propelled Yeo Kim Luang to achieve success in the recycling and oil palm biomass by-products processing business. 

In 1996, Yeo was excited about her invention from oil palm waste, Ecomat after about four years of research. Unfortunately, the first generation of Ecomat, an oil palm biomass-based mat made of empty fruit bunches used for soil erosion prevention, was not well received back then.However, that did not dampen her spirit. 

Yeo, who is Ecofuture Bhd chief executive officer, continued to work hard to develop a better and finer version of the product. 

Two years later, when she attended an exhibition in China, she came up with the idea of using Ecomat for sandstorm control. 

Yeo Kim Luang

“When I saw a very bad sandstorm in China, it struck me that maybe I could use Ecomat to control the sandstorm. So, I when I got back to Malaysia, I started doing a rigorous research in our factory in Johor for that purpose,” Yeo told Starbiz. 

In 1999, backed by Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik who was then Primary Industries Minister, Yeo approached Chinese government through Beijing forestry authority and submitted a proposal to undertake a desert and sandstorm control trial project. 

The sandstorm control trial project in Xuanhua County, Hebei Province began several years ago. 

Following its success, the Chinese government and Ecofuture entered into a four-year agreement worth RM3mil to extend the project to other parts of China this year. 

“When I went there in July last year, I was very happy to discover the once barren desert was covered with greenery on the soil protected by Ecomat. The trial project in China opened up my eyes. I began to look at the world map and realised that there are a lot of places that are covered with desert. I started looking at possibility of undertaking desert storm control projects in other countries,” said Yeo who studied chemistry at the Nanyang University of Singapore. 

Today, two countries in the Middle East - Kuwait and Lebanon - are also testing the Ecomat for desert storm control. 

Soon-to-be listed on Bursa Malaysia Mesdaq market, Ecofuture is also now exploring Taiwan and Japan for opportunities to market Ecomat

Yeo’s fervour for new discoveries inspired her to take over an old palm oil mill and start up a business of recycling bio-mass by-products in Segamat, Johor along with her two business partners in 1993. 

On what inspired her to venture into the business, she said:” Actually it was due to my interest. I grabbed the opportunity realising about the two biggest problems affecting the industry particularly disposal of biomass and empty fruit bunches. I discovered that empty fruit bunches could be used to create many products after attending seminars by organised research centres and institutions in early 1990s.” Yeo who is affable and has an easy manner, began her career in her late 20s in a palm oil mill in Terengganu as a laboratory analyst dealing with quality control for oil palm after she completed her studies. 

“My degree was not recognised so I was given the post of a laboratory analyst. I held the position for about three years before taking up a management position in a Kuala Lumpur-based company dealing with palm oil. I worked for three companies before starting Ecofuture in Johor.” 

Being married and having two children also did not hinder Yeo from juggling between her career and family to pursue her interest in carrying out research work on how to create new products from oil palm residues. 

“I believe we must have commitment, initiative and confidence. We can't just rely on research centres,” she said. 

Ecofuture had initially collaborated with the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia to develop its core invention - the Ecofibrex machine - to shred fibre from empty fruit bunches in 1996. 

“But along the way, we injected our own initiative and improved the technology for fibre shredding,” she said. 

So far, Yeo said Ecofuture had invested between RM1mil and RM2mil for trial and research purposes. 

“We will still invest in research as and when such investments are required,” she said. Ecofuture's strategies were to expand its core activities, diversify into related businesses, brand building and penetration into new markets. 

Yeo said: “If there are opportunity we may possibly promote our product in Europe.”  

She said interested parties from several countries including Japan and Australia had approached the company expressing interest in Ecomat. 

Domestically, she said the company hoped to work with the Works Department to resolve soil erosion on local roads. 

Besides Ecomat, the company has developed Ecofibre, Ecopot and planting materials.  

“I'm happy with my achievement not because of money. I just feel that at least I am contributing to the industry and the global environment. 

“At least we can focus on downstream products and not rely too much on palm oil price that fluctuates often. It is something out of our control,” Yeo added.  

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