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The Big Interview: Lootah Biofuel's Yousif Lootah

by Stian Overdahl on Dec 21, 2012

Yousif Saeed Lootah, CEO of Lootah Biofuels
Yousif Saeed Lootah, CEO of Lootah Biofuels

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Lootah Biofuels recently signed an MoU with AlgaOil, to research production of biodiesel from algae in Dubai. PMV Middle East editor Stian Overdahl speaks with Yousif Saeed Lootah, CEO of Lootah Biofuels, about the possibilities and practicalities of biofuel production in the GCC

The idea of extracting oil needed for producing biodiesel from algae that has been grown in large man-made ponds is one that can’t help but excite interest from those concerned with sustainability as well as fuel security.

Likewise, the certainty of demand for oil and petroleum means that there has also been interest from the business community.

Dubai-based Lootah Biofuels, part of the much larger SS Lootah Group, is a pioneer of biofuels in the GCC, and recently signed a MoU with the Singapore-based AlgaOil, which will see the two team up to conduct research into algae, hoping to eventually begin production of algae on a mass scale for oil extraction, if they have success in the lab.

The international team of the former company, SS Lootah International, has signed up with Germany’s Ardnt, to offer automated biodiesel plants in the region. It all points to a greener future.

While the recent global development of biofuels has been rapid, by comparison with fossil fuels they remain only a drop in the ocean. One recent study estimated that by 2022, biofuels will make up 8% of the world’s oil volumes. And while this would be only a small fraction of what is used, it would still make biofuels a multi-billion dollar industry.

CEO of Lootah Biofuels, and a director of S.S. Lootah Group, Yousif Saeed Lootah, is committed to the cause of cleaner fuels, but he is under no illusions about where they are in the process.

“The potential is very big – but it will take 20-30 years, as fossil fuel oil declines and renewable energy sources improve. And the mindset of the people will change – this is something that will happen.”

Starting in 2010, Lootah Biofuels began to collect used cooking oil from restaurants and industrial food manufacturers. In developing a new market, there were both advantages and pitfalls, explains Lootah. At the time, some restaurants would give it away freely, treating it as waste.

“We have educated the food chain,” he says. “Now that there is awareness of the value of used cooking oil, the food chain companies – even the smaller restaurants – are selling it. The price of the used cooking oil is higher than when we started.”

One practice that they have had to combat has been the transportation of used oil to other markets. “Some would take this used cooking oil to other countries for reuse. This is not ethical.”

From biodiesel standpoint, one difficulty with using used cooking oil as the feedstock is that it is not an homogenous oil, but a mix of different oils, such as canola oil, soyabean oil, palm oil.

“With our engineering talent, and our German partner and supplier [Ardnt], we designed our plant to produce pure biodiesel, even though the feedstock is a mix of oils.”

The Dubai plant is currently capable of producing 10,000 litres of biodiesel per day, amounting to approximately 240,000 litres of biodiesel per month. Based on an estimation of the total production of used cooking each month in Dubai – 1000 tonnes – Lootah Biofuels is able to convert around 25% of the total market in the emirate into biodiesel.

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