Pursuing Environmentally Friendly Fuel Sources

The current kerosene scarcity has again brought home the fact that sources of energy derived from the earth are limited. Fossil-based fuels are not renewable and there will come a day when their sources are depleted. Added to this worry is the realization that this type of fuel is not environmentally friendly and is a major source of pollution.

The fuel used by motor vehicles today generates toxic substances such as hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. These substances can cause respiratory problems, cancer and infertility in women.

It is undeniable that the supply of non-renewable fuel is limited while demand for it, as well as its price, continues to rise. This means that demand will always outstrip supply. The demand for petroleum-based fuel in Indonesia stands at 215 million liters a day while domestic production reaches only 180 million liters a day, meaning the shortfall has to be imported.

Indonesia is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) but it has unfortunately become a net importer of crude oil.

Most of the demand for fuel for low-income or poor people, particularly in rural areas, is for kerosene, the price of which is affordable as kerosene is subsidized by the government. However, as kerosene is also used for industrial purposes and for other businesses, there is sometimes a kerosene scarcity. In addition, people who live close to forests collect wood for firewood and frequently cut down trees in protected forests, posing a threat to the country’s forests and the wildlife within them.

The government decision to make liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) the preferred fuel among poor households instead of kerosene may be a wise move, but it faces a lot of constraints. For one thing, switching from kerosene to LPG has been met with resistance from the targeted market. LPG could be one of the solutions, although Indonesia is rich in fossil-based non-oil fuel such as natural gas and coal as well as in renewable energy such as geothermal heat, biomass, hydropower and solar heat.

The problem is not just a matter of alternative energy. It assumes a greater complexity when connected to the resulting environmental destruction. Enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases is a breath of fresh air to the development of technology and the use of environmentally friendly energy. International producers now vie with one another to respond to this challenge by launching environmentally friendly automobiles.

These environmentally friendly or green automobiles have been exhibited at a number of motor shows. Toyota, for example, has introduced a hybrid car, the creation of which it pioneered over 10 years ago, followed later by other car producers. The trend to manufacture cars with low emissions is a great development. This is in line with the ambition of carmakers to lower motor vehicle emissions from 20 percent to 6 percent of total emission of carbon dioxide in the air.

A hybrid car uses a combination of electric engine and combustion engine, which maximizes the power of these two sources of power while at the same time complementing each other. The result is the efficient consumption of fuel followed by outstanding performance.

Hybrid cars and fuel cells are not uncommon on the streets of advanced countries, particularly the United States, Europe and Japan. However, it will take Indonesia some time to follow suit. There are a number of reasons for this. First is price. Second, the fuel efficiency achieved is outweighed by the high price of the car and its expensive maintenance.

And therefore the search for a non-conventional source of energy continues. The government should pay special attention to the development of environmentally friendly alternative fuel sources, usually called biodiesel.

Wikipedia defines biodiesel as an oil-based fuel derived from renewable sources. These sources may be oil made from plants or animal fat. Types of biodiesel already developed are castor oil, crude palm oil and gasohol. Gasohol, the name of which is a combination of gasoline and alcohol, is a mixture of ordinary gasoline and processed cassava.

Gasohol was put to the test by the state minister of research and technology a number of years ago in the compound of the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT). The fuel, called Gasohol BE-10, is the outcome of years of research by a team of researchers at the Center for Starch Technology (B2TP) of BPPT Lampung. This particular oil fuel is a mixture of gasoline (90 percent) and bio-ethanol (10 percent).

Another pure biodiesel, which is no less interesting to note, is jatropha oil. This has been developed by scientists at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and the Mitsubishi Research Institute, Japan. This alternative oil fuel is 100 percent natural biodiesel.

Jatropha oil is vegetable oil obtained from the seeds of the Jatropha curcas L, or physic nut plant, a shrub of the Euphorbiaceae family. As physic nuts are abundant in Indonesia and can be cultivated here, Dr. Robert Manurung, a lecturer in industrial chemical engineering at ITB, can confirm that the government is serious in exploiting physic nut plants as an alternative oil fuel source.

“We can save a lot of foreign exchange by using jatropha oil as a substitute for the 2.5 billion liters of diesel oil used per year by PLN state electricity company at its power generating plants outside Java,” he noted.

Another team of researchers from ITB has also come up with another alternative oil fuel with palm oil as the source. This time ITB is collaborating with the Oil and Gas Institute (Lemigas) and BPPT to develop an oil fuel that will be internationally accepted under the name of Crude Palm Oil (CPO).

In countries like the United States and Australia palm oil biodiesel has been applied in a lot of cases. Mass use of this particular biodiesel is found in Latin America and Africa, where the production of oil palms is high. Even in Germany, biodiesel has been used for vehicles and industrial machinery. Regarding the construction of the biodiesel factory in Germany, Director of Campa Biodisel GmbH and Co, based in Ocshenfurt, Dr. Ralf Truck, confirmed the positive aspects of using biodiesel.

“Biodiesel made from palm oil is suitable for many types and makes of automobiles. It is sulfur-free and is renewable energy source. In addition, it contains no toxins, is energy-intensive and can be used in winter when the temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius,” he said.

When fuel shortages loom, the development of sources of alternative energy seems pressing. Otherwise, just be ready for an energy crisis. (Burhan Abe)

The Jakarta Post, September 18, 2007

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