Palm oil may be blended in jet fuel as study shows suitable

There are technologies currently available to produce biojet fuel, through conversion of biological resources

by AFIQ AZIZ / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE aviation sector can play a crucial role in boosting Malaysian palm oil, which has been saddled with discrimination in the West, low prices and high inventory.

As debates are still ongoing on palm oil fuel for vehicles, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) suggests that the commodity can be mixed into biojet fuel — a composition to be blended with the fossil-based aviation fuel.

MPOB DG Datuk Dr Ahmad Kushairi Din said there are technologies currently available to produce biojet fuel, through conversion of biological resources such as oil, fats, palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD), algae and biomass.

“These technologies are different from the conversion of oils or fats into biodiesel that is used in the transportation sector. The biojet fuel is to be blended with the fossil-based aviation fuel,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) via an email reply.

While PFAD has been accepted as feedstock for sustainable aviation fuel, works are underway for palm oil to be accepted as well.

Ahmad Kushairi said MPOB has conducted a collaborative study with an American company to identify and screen the suitable feedstock from palm for biojet fuel production.

“PFAD and palm oil have been tested under this study in Chicago, US, for pilot plant trials.

“Based on the study, both have shown good conversion into biojet fuel with by-products such as diesel, naphtha, propane and others. The study showed that PFAD and palm oil are suitable feedstock for biojet fuel,” he said.

“But what we can affirm is that Malaysian palm oil industry’s commitment in participating in the CORSIA implementation (reduce carbon dioxide, or CO2, emission from international aviation), by developing sustainable aviation fuel using PFAD, used cooking oil, oil palm biomass and algae,” he said.

The usage of palm oil in biojet fuel mix can reduce palm oil stocks which put a pinch on prices. Recent data from MPOB showed that in March 2019, end-stocks dropped 4.6% to 2.92 million tonnes from February 2019.

According to Ahmad Kushairi, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to reduce greenhouse gas emission for the aviation sector.

One of the carbon offsetting measures is to use sustainable biojet fuel accredited under CORSIA.

“With the commitment of CORSIA, the minimum blending of biojet fuel is 2% starting 2027, and the approved blending could be up to 50%,” he highlighted.

Under CORSIA, all airline operators with annual emissions greater than 10,000 tonnes of CO2 are required to report their emissions on an annual basis, with monitoring starting in January 2019.

The CO2 offsetting requirements in CORSIA will be implemented in 2021 in phases with mandatory implementation to begin in 2027.

Ahmad Kushairi said MPOB is currently conducting a feasibility study on aviation fuel for the economy and its impact to airline operators, bearing in mind that any effort to protect the environment comes with a cost.

“For example, a Malaysia-based airline would require 60,000 tonnes per year of biojet fuel to meet the 2% blending ratio requirement,” he said.

Currently, there are more than 80 airlines operating to and from Malaysian airports nationwide.

Ahmad Kushairi said in the Asean region, there is no biojet fuel production plant at the moment.

Currently, European firm Neste Corp is producing green diesel (hydro-treated vegetable oil) from waste oil and vegetable oils at one million tonnes per year capacity. The company has also announced to invest an additional €1.4 billion (RM6.51 billion) for setting up the second bio-refinery plant in Singapore by 2023 for biojet fuel and green diesel production with a capacity of 1.3 million tonnes per year.

Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top two producers of the vegetable oil, have threatened to challenge the European Union in the World Trade Organisation over the economic bloc’s plan to ban palm oil-based biofuel by 2030.

To minimise impact and reduce stocks, Malaysia started rolling out the B10 biodiesel (a blend of 10% palm oil in diesel) for the transportation sector last month, while Indonesia has introduced B20 since 2016.

An industry player told TMR that the government should demand ICAO to accept palm oil as part of the biojet fuel blend.

“We could lose this competitive market to our neighbours if we do not address this now. Alternatively, we could mandate the use of biojet fuel domestically using palm oil as feedstock.

“This initiative will help to increase usage of palm oil without subject to the ICAO regulations,” the person said.