Palm Biodiesel - Fuel of the future

It is largely accepted that conventional sources of fuel and energy are being rapidly depleted and there is a global search for sustainable sources of alternative renewable fuel. Renewable fuel is a commodity just like any other form of energy. It has a major role in meeting energy demand needs and combating global warming. One of the most exciting development is fatty acid methyl esters, popularly known as Biodiesel.

Biodiesel is an alternative renewable fuel that has been hailed as one of the biggest technology breakthroughs in the Oils and Fats industry. It is one of the most viable substitutes for petroleum diesel fuel and is manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases combined with alcohol (ethanol or methanol) in the transesterification process. Biodiesel has a major advantage over petroleum diesel in that it is derived from renewable sources and is environmentally friendly. Therefore, fewer green house gases such as carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. In several countries, a combination of legislation and tax breaks favor the rising production and consumption of Biodiesel. In the US, Biodiesel is considered to be the lowest cost-strategy in complying with state and federal regulations on emission as it does not require major engine modifications. As the world’s largest Palm Oil producer and exporter, Malaysia is now looked upon as the pioneer of a new and exciting Palm Biodiesel Industry. The benefits of Biodiesel encompassing economical and environmental components are well in line with the Malaysian government’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Policy (Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010) for the country.

What is Palm Biodiesel?
Palm Biodiesel is an alternative fuel derived from Palm Oil and can be used in compression ignition engines i.e. diesel engines without any modifications. It refers to methyl esters derived from Palm Oil through a process known as “transesterification”. Biodiesel has been recognised and accepted as an alternative and renewable source of energy which is environmentally friendly. Biodiesel is degradable, non toxic and can be used as transportation fuel in most public transportation system. It can be used in pure form but is often blended with regular diesel. Palm Biodiesel has been systematically and exhaustively evaluated as diesel fuel substitute since 1983. These include laboratory evaluation, stationary engine testing and field trials on a large number of vehicles, including taxis, trucks, trains, passenger cars and buses.

Why Palm Biodiesel?
Palm Oil is the most productive oil bearing plant species. The yield of Palm Oil per unit area is 5 and 10 times higher than rapeseed and soy bean respectively. Considering the comparative yields of various oil-bearing crops, Palm Oil is clearly the most efficiently-produced in the world today.  When the global market increases its focus on vegetable oil as renewable fuel, Palm Oil will inevitably stand out. The yield factor alone is adequate for the world to decide on certain vegetable oils that will be produced extensively to meet the expanding requirements for greener and cleaner energy. The added advantage of using Palm Oil is that it is less susceptible to the vagaries of the weather compared to other vegetable oils. Being a perennial tree crop, it produces oil the whole year round and is not harmful to the environment like annual crops. This would ensure a constant supply of raw material for the Biodiesel industry. In international markets where petroleum diesel is not subsidised, Palm Biodiesel will be a very viable investment.  

The Environment Factor : Projecting A Green Image
As a perennial crop, Palm Oil maintains green canopy throughout its 30 years of economic life compared to annual crops like Soya Bean which is only able to maintain its green affect for a few months in a year. Studies have also confirmed that Palm Oil-based products are much easily degraded than those based on petrochemical-derived feedstock. Thus, it is clear that Palm Oil promotes optimal impact on the environment and is able to meet a sizeable proportion of the world’s needs for energy and Oils and Fats.

The Carbon Cycle

All Biofuels are derived from the conversion of sunlight to energy that takes place in the green leaves of plants. Plants take up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere; burning plant (or animal) products in an engine releases the CO2 uptake back into the atmosphere. The CO2 released into the atmosphere when Biodiesel is being burned is recycled by growing plants, which are later processed into fuels. The recycled CO2 causes the atmospheric CO2 levels to remain constant. Due to its closed carbon cycle, Biodiesel do not increase the Greenhouse Effect compared to fossil fuels, which release large amounts of new (or rather very old) CO2 which has been locked away from the atmosphere. In fact, Biodiesel can actually reduce CO2 level in the atmosphere: growing soybeans consumes nearly four times as much CO2 as the amount of CO2 produced in the exhaust from soybean oil Biodiesel. 
In the US, a blend of 20% Biodiesel with 80% petroleum diesel is widely used. Many US states have passed legislation favouring Biodiesel and a new tax incentive signed in 2004 for Biodiesel productions demonstrates an increasing support for edible oil prices.
In Australia, a Biodiesel package released in 2003 provides producers and importers of domestic Biodiesel with subsidies and a net effective excise rate of zero for Biodiesel.
Japan, Korea, China and Thailand have also expressed strong interests in Biodiesel and are among many countries that are now seriously evaluating their own indigenous vegetable oils as renewable energy sources.
All of these developments underscore environmental benefits in terms of lesser green house gas emission and economical benefits in terms of reduced dependence on the fossil fuel imports and positive impact on agriculture.