Fuel for thought: the hidden benefits of biodiesel

James Morgan explains why biofuels could serve to advance the Gulf's engine technology, as well as its environmental credentials

James Morgan, editor of PMV Middle East.
James Morgan, editor of PMV Middle East.

Last month, I attended festivities laid on for Dubai Municipality’s sixth annual Car Free Day. The event, which encourages local residents to forego their cars and make use of the Emirate’s public transport system, also acts as a platform for the promotion of greener vehicular technologies.

As such, environmental pioneers turned out in force at the municipality’s headquarters in Al Rigga. Attendees were treated to a remote-control helicopter demonstration, a display of local BMX and skating talent, and even the chance to get up close and personal with BMW’s futuristic i8.

Also present were the folks from Neutral Fuels, a UAE-headquartered biodiesel producer. During the morning of the event, the firm signed an agreement to supply biofuels – produced entirely in Dubai using the city’s leftover vegetable oil – to power municipal vehicles.

This agreement is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates Dubai Municipality’s commitment to lowering its carbon footprint. Neutral Fuels claims that its biodiesel offers carbon emissions reductions of around 80%, compared to conventional diesel.

Secondly, this is an historic agreement. It is the first time that a municipality – anywhere in the world – has committed to the use of biodiesel, 100% of which is manufactured within its boundaries, and solely from the waste produce of its citizens.

There is also a third consideration that makes this a significant deal, and it could precipitate positive ramifications for the region’s equipment sector in general.

The biodiesel produced by Neutral Fuels is compatible with all diesel engines, and does not require any modifications. Think about that for a moment. The conventional diesel used across much of the Middle East cannot make this claim. For the most part, its high sulphur content makes it incompatible with the latest Tier 4 and Euro 6 engines from Europe, North America, and parts of Asia Pacific.

In fairness, this limitation does not necessarily apply to the UAE, which is leading the way in terms of the Gulf’s adoption of ultra-low-sulphur diesel (ULSD). Last year, Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) became the first Emirati fuel supplier to roll out Euro 5-compliant diesel across its stations, and offered subsidies to ease the financial burden on local fleet owners.

Having said that, Neutral Fuels has matched the price of its biodiesel with ENOC’s Euro 5 diesel, and points out that its fuel’s environmental benefits do not come at the cost performance or reliability. Indeed, the firm claims that studies have shown its biodiesel’s potential to increase the lifespans of
vehicles that run on it.

The problem – or perhaps, challenge – is production. Whilst Neutral Fuels says there is no theoretical limit to the amount of diesel that the Gulf can produce by recycling vegetable oil, it also notes that investment in refining equipment must match demand for the product. Essentially, there’s no point ramping up production capacities unless customers are sufficiently convinced by the argument to switch.

If, however, biodiesel does take off in the Gulf, the environment will benefit and OEMs will no longer have an excuse to reserve their best engine technologies for other markets.

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