Public awareness crucial to increase biofuel usage in Malaysia, says researcher Malaysia has a long way to go in terms of biofuel development despite ongoing ...

Public awareness crucial to increase biofuel usage in Malaysia, says researcher Malaysia has a long way to go in terms of biofuel development despite ongoing R&D for more than three decades, said biofuel researcher Prof Dr Masjuki Hassan.

The lecturer of Universiti Malaya’s Engineering faculty added that Malaysia has yet to make significant progress in developing technology that can be used to produce biodiesel as a replacement for petroleum-based products.

“We are still looking for an efficient and cost-effective technology that can yield high-quality biodiesel with (improved) oxidative stability,” he was quoted by a local news agency recently.

Biodiesel is a relatively clean-burning, renewable fuel produced from new and used animal and vegetable oils.

It is more environmentally-friendly than conventional diesel, which is derived from petroleum, as the former has more oxygen in its molecules.

The presence of oxygen enables biodiesel to emit lower levels of environmentally-hazardous greenhouse gases (GHG) like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons during combustion.

In efforts to come up with a sustainable energy source for the country, Masjuki shared that researchers at local universities, including Universiti Malaya, have been doing their part to carry out research into biofuels.

A team of researchers at Universiti Putra Malaysia has succeeded in converting used cooking oil into biodiesel for use in heavy machinery and vehicles.

Universiti Tenaga Nasional researchers have also carried out research on the use of waste cooking oil as an alternative feedstock for biodiesel production.

“Local university researchers are studying the possibility of harnessing biodiesel from feedstock sourced from coconuts and trees like Moringa oleifera (drumstick tree), Calophyllum inophyllum (Borneo mahogany) and Jatropha curcas (physic nut tree),” he elaborated.

There is also a need to set up a special research centre to coordinate all R&D activities pertaining to biodiesel.

Masjuki further urged the government to implement policies and campaigns to educate the people on environmental awareness and to step up biodiesel applications.

Besides safeguarding the environment, the wider use of biodiesel applications would also ensure the nation’s energy security through an uninterrupted supply of energy sources.

“We cannot tell when wars will break out, which can lead to blocks in oil supplies.

If our country has biodiesel, then at least it has an alternative energy source,” Masjuki advised.

The researcher pointed out that the lack of awareness on biofuel technologies is a hindrance towards its development.

Countries like Japan and South Korea with no fossil fuel sources have been successful in turning to alternative energy sources, simply because their people are more aware of alternative energy and its role in protecting the environment.

In Malaysia, the local automotive industry has also not shown much interest to install biodiesel engines for their vehicles, citing higher costs and increased car prices.

Additionally, the engines of existing vehicles would also have to be modified to accommodate biodiesel as the latter’s molecules are not compatible with the engine design.

Biodiesel can also cause certain engine parts to turn rusty.

“Although the rust problem can be overcome by applying a protective coating on engine parts, car manufacturers are not going for biodiesel engines because of the other higher costs involved,” Masjuki added.

He opined that Malaysia must reduce its dependence on palm oil as a biofuel ingredient because ready supply of cheap feedstock is not available.

Dependency on a single source is a key challenge that Malaysia faces while finding suitable renewable energy (RE) sources and coming up with the productive technology to utilise biodiesel.

“The availability of feedstock procured from palm oil is influenced by its market price.

If the price is high, producers prefer to sell palm oil to get higher returns.

Only when the price drops (to low levels) do they think of converting palm oil to biodiesel,” he explained.

Many groups in Europe and the US have called for banning palm oil in biofuels as some production practices lead to forest destruction.

Masjuki thinks the ban is likely to protect their own local biodiesel markets that utilise other feedstock like soy, corn, and sunflower oil.

According to 2015 statistics, Malaysia derived 37% of its energy from petroleum sources, followed by natural gas (25%) and coal (21%).

The same year, RE sources like solar, hydropower, geothermal, biomass, and wind accounted for only 8% of the nation’s energy consumption.

Nuclear energy made up the remaining 9%.

By Neera Khandpuri.

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