Sri Lanka is at an edge of a disaster with the current economic crisis. As a bankrupted country, without seeing any solution or at least a vision and unity to build up again from the authorities, we must find solutions ourselves to this situation. Then as an engineering student, I hope at least we can present our ideas and make them happen someway. The main and closest reason for the economic crisis is the lack of foreign exchange in our country. The central bank does not have foreign exchange so, most important-imported items are not able to buy. The most demanding and required items are fuel and medicine. Without petrol and diesel, tourism, exports, and other industries are at risk. When these sectors fail, then again, we are losing the ways that we earn foreign exchange. This is a discussion about, what is Bio-Diesel and can usage of it help with the fuel problem or not.
The world is shifting toward renewable and sustainable energy sources because fossil fuels (fuels that we use mostly today) will no longer exist in 2050. And climate changes and other reasons also have caused this energy shift. Those renewable energy sources include solar, wind, hydro, biomass, geothermal, tidal, biofuel, etc. Same as the research is doing for solar and wind energy, most countries are experimenting and leaning toward biofuels. Portable liquid biofuels can replace fossil fuels and they have clean burning and high levels of energy. Ethanol, methanol, Bio-crude, methane, and Bio Diesel are a few biofuels already used at the macro level in some countries.
What is ‘Bio Diesel’?
Bio-Diesel is a renewable diesel fuel substitute. The first development of Bio-Diesel has happened long before even the first diesel combustion engine was invented in 1893. This is first made by the method called transesterification of vegetable oil was conducted as early as1853 by scientists E. Duffy and J. Patrick. Transesterification is a chemical method that can use to combine any natural oil or fat (mono-alkyl esters of long-chain fatty acids) with alcohol (usually methanol because it is the cheapest alcohol). In current research, there are few other methods other than transesterification. After the process, generated Bio Diesel has combustion properties, not like the previous natural oil. So, this Bio Diesel can replace most diesel usages.
The most usable natural oil used for these productions is vegetable oil. In the USA, they use around 40% of their crops (mostly corn) for creating these biofuels. But the countries like us can’t sacrifice our food crops for creating these fuels. Later in this discussion, I will discuss solutions for this. Bio-Diesel can use in the pure form or as a blend. Usually, pure Bio Diesel is referred to as B100. But for the diesel engines, Bio Diesel is used as a 20% blend with petroleum diesel, and it is referred to as B20. Different blend levels are different from each other by cost and usage. Some of these blends are as follows.
• 100% biodiesel is referred to as B100
• 20% biodiesel, 80% Petro diesel is labeled B20
• 7% biodiesel, 93% Petro diesel is labeled B7
• 5% biodiesel, 95% Petro diesel is labeled B5
• 2% biodiesel, 98% Petro diesel is labeled B2
One of the major problems in fossil fuel combustion is the emission of carbon dioxide. Bio-Diesel combustion is the same. But because Bio Diesel is a renewable energy source, the plants and crops used to create Bio-Diesel are theoretically grown again and absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide that it emits when it is used. This means it releases less carbon dioxide. Due to fossil fuels are not generated again the emitted carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere and causes other environmental pollution.
To produce Bio Diesel, different kinds of raw materials can be used. Seeds of jatropha, neem, oil palm, coconut, Pongamia, Endaru, Kitul, Palmyra, Mango, Tamarind, Avocado, Kaneru, Jack seeds, Rambutan, Mee, Margosa, Domba, Rubber are some of them. Sri Lankan people throw away most of these seeds. There are different ways to extract oil from these seeds. And there are other oils for this purpose. The most wonderful news is, we can use the waste frying oils and waste coffee grounds. Now let’s consider the most intense question.
Can Sri Lanka use Bio Diesel to replace Petrol and Diesel as in this situation?
Yes. With a proper plan and with the government’s help this is possible. Trying to switch to biofuel in Sri Lanka was happening for a long time. There are a lot of research that has happened, and they are dying at the laboratories because not surprisingly government or commercial sector does not attempt to gain the benefits of three times overall efficient Bio Diesel. In a dollar crisis like this, we can move towards Bio-Diesel, step by step and more economic outcomes can be obtained by this. Producing Bio Diesel is not complicated and not costly as diesel or petrol production.
This process can do even on a micro-scale. Sri Lanka has enough raw materials for production. The seeds I mentioned above can be supplied without having severe problems. Developing a small-scale Bio Diesel industry in village areas is the first step to go to Bio Diesel. People have the knowledge that Bio Diesel is tested and it’s safe. And the types of equipment required for the process can be bought in the market from micro-scale to large scale. In this situation, the government can supply the equipment at least in a loan scheme because this investment repays quickly.
The individual who produces Bio-Diesel can sell this fuel at less price than normal Diesel. They can produce several jobs other than the people that they want for production, like people who supply the raw materials. Village people can earn extra money by this, and they can first use this Bio-Diesel on their hand tractors, tractors, and other agricultural vehicles. One fact about Sri Lanka is obvious. We don’t have to worry that people won’t move to Bio-Diesel because first, in this crisis people will tend to any option left other than waiting hours in lines. Second, they sometimes already use kerosene as fuel, so Bio Diesel is a lot better than kerosene. The middle class of Sri Lanka will join for production and in a very quick timeframe, the necessary fuel target can be completed for the vehicles in all village and suburb areas.
Government can also start Bio-Diesel production at the macro level, and they can use that fuel for public transportation. There is a suggestion to grow Endaru on both sides of railway lines (a large amount of land belongs to government) which spread all over the country and that harvest can use to produce fuel for trains. Considering the cost to buy petroleum products, producing Bio-Diesel at a large scale, and distributing them is cheap and productive. This process only cost some capital at the beginning. After completely fulfilling the demanding Diesel for buses and trains, after some time of this crisis they can use some dollars to import more modern buses and develop public transportation to the next level. If the commercial sector also joins the production of Bio-Diesel, in a very quick timeframe, a considerable percentage of imported fuels can be stopped.
At the macro level, only seeds can’t fulfill the required raw material demand. Therefore, we can use the newest methods for production. Waste oil and food waste are some other raw materials that have already been proven they can use. We can’t use eatable crops for BioDiesel production like some other countries. But using food waste is ethically ok and it will help to waste management. Food waste can use to produce Bio Diesel and also Bio-Ethanol. Even though tourism is at a risk now, Sri Lanka is a country with very good tourism industry. Collecting all waste oil from tourist hotels, other restaurants, fast food outlets, and neighbourhood diners, there can collect more than 20000 liters per day. Converting this waste oil to Bio Diesel is another sustainable method of this production. It does not affect the food use of the country and it is again helping to prevent some environmental pollution.
As a conclusion, in this financial crisis Bio Diesel and other Biofuels are sustainable alternative for Diesel. With a proper plan and education, people can start this at micro level and then it can be expanded until a considerable percentage of imported fuel replaced by Bio Diesel. With a continuous supply of Bio Diesel to tourism sector we can rebuild it in these days. (Without fuel there is no tourism these days) Finally, the sugar cane and other large-scale products can use to product Bio Ethanol. It is also a sustainable energy product. With the saved dollars for fuel Sri Lanka can import medicine and save lives.
• Karmee, S.K. and Lin, C.S.K., 2014. Valorisation of food waste to biofuel: current trends and technological challenges. Sustainable Chemical Processes, 2(1), pp.1-4.Chemical Processes, 2(1), 1-4.
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Sasindu Jayasri is an Engineering student from Sri Lanka and he studies mechanical engineering at the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Moratuwa. He is passionate about writing and giving inspiration to the world. Follow him in LinkedIn for updates and you can contact him directly.