The oil and raffia palm species are indigenous to West and Central Africa, and their exploitation both at industrial and artisanal scale generate important quantities of renewable fibrous biomass that can be converted to high and low value bio-based products. Fibre samples were prepared from three raffia palm species drawn from three locations and Oil Palm Empty Fruit Bunch (OPEFB) from an industrial palm oil mill, all in the South West Region of Cameroon. The samples were tested for chemical composition using wet chemical methods and an elemental analyzer. The functional groups were determined by Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FT-IR) spectroscopy while morphological analysis and crystallinity were evaluated by scanning electron microscopy and powder X-ray diffraction respectively. The results obtained show that extractives-free raffia palm fibres are similar to OPEFB with respect to lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose contents, morphology, occurrence of silica bodies on the surface of fibres and internal porosity. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) indicated that the diameter of raffia fibre were larger than those of OPEFB stalk and spikelet fibres. The content of extractives determined by gravimetric method showed significantly lower values for raffia biomass compared to EFB fibres. The response of the fibres to hypochlorite treatment as revealed by FT-IR and morphological studies was very similar. The raffia fibres reflected significantly lower ash content and the powder X-ray studies showed slight differences in crystallinity index between raffia and OPEFB. The variability in key characteristics of biomass from the different species of palm are within the limits of the variability shown by biomass from the same species of plants. This leads to the conclusion that, the two types of palm which are both indigenous to the West and Central Africa can serve as source of blended renewable biomass. Promotion of cultivation and conservation of existing raffia plantations presents as a strategy for a more sustainable supply of biomass feedstock for bio-based products.
Key words: Raffia palm, oil palm, fiber sample, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FT-IR), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM).
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