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Palm oil B10 diesel – more testing needed, say carmakers

POSTED BY Nigel Andretti ON 23 September 2016

By YAMIN VONG

IN Malaysia, the controversy is not whether palm oil-based bio-fuel is a diversion of a food resource.

The bigger debate is whether more of it can be consumed as bio-fuel — both to support the price of the commodity and to draw down on the growing stockpile.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister (MPIC), Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, set off yet another round of fireworks when he was reported as saying that B10 bio-diesel would be rolled out in the fourth quarter this year. He was quoted in a Malaysia Day special in a national English daily.

In fact, Mah could have been over-enthusiastic or could have been taken out of context because the government has agreed that there must be a consensus on this technical issue involving the stakeholders.

The Minister could yet be correct because the government could decide to supply B10 for Euro2 diesel while leaving Euro5 at the internationally accepted B7 bio-diesel level.

If this decision is made, it will be disputed by commercial vehicle suppliers because their trucks are specified to use Euro2 at maximum B7 level.

Having said that, a consensus won’t happen anytime soon because of two stakeholders:
1. Oil companies
2. Car companies.

Oil companies have indicated that they will blend and supply B10 bio-diesel only if they are indemnified against legal liabilities if car companies and/or motorists sue them for the supply of non-specified fuels which void the engine warranty.

“Sort out the engine warranty first and then we do B10,” said an observer from the fuel supply industry.

Clarifying the situation, he said that in Indonesia, fuel stations especially the national oil company Pertamina have two diesels: B0 and a B10. “In Indonesia, car owners especially European car owners have a choice when they fill up,” he said.

Another automaker added: “The government can even make B10 or B20 for Euro2 because the old trucks that ?fill up on? Euro2 are of the old generation diesel engines without high pressure common rail fuel injection systems and high precision piezo electric injectors.

“But definitely not B1) for Euro5 because the fatty acids in palm oil will increase the density of the diesel fuel. Euro5 diesel fuel is thinner in density than Euro2 and this thinner viscosity makes it easier for the common rail and/or direct injection system to furthur atomise the fuel.

“The finer atoms ?of diesel in “green” modern diesel engines and fuel systems ?allow a more complete combustion, leading to more power and lower emissions,” he said

From the point of view of car companies in Malaysia, most of the stakeholders agree that the discussions are in the very early stage.

“Luckily it’s the MAI who is coordinating the discussion between MPIC and us vehicle makers. Last time we had a talk with MPIC, they said that the OEMs were OK when we weren’t,” said a participant at MAI’s first round table last month.

The Malaysia Automotive Institute (MAI) is coordinating efforts in introducing B10 bio diesel to the Malaysian market, consistent with the government’s direction of greener emissions and reduced fossil fuel dependency.

A key area of concern for the industry think-tank is a common test methodology that addresses the technical requirements of all parties involved.

The MAI is now in the final rounds of the second phase of the engagement: a one-to-one consultation between MAI and vehicle makers individually.

Once the consultation is completed, there should be clearer direction in designing the proper test methods to assess the compatibility of the B10 blend.

Almost all the companies so far engaged on a one-to-one basis have said that they are willing to test B10 with MPIC based on a testing protocol shared by MPIC and the vehicle maker.

One commercial truck maker has objected to B10 and has yet to confirm if it is willing to do a common test with MPIC.

The third phase will be agreeing on the test protocols and the final stage will be the validation of the test data by the relevant stake holders. These two stages may take more than a year and that too if the stakeholders strictly observe the timelines.

Back to Malaysia and one of the more articulate stakeholders, BMW Malaysia’s spokesman, A. Sashi ?said in a telephone interview: “Palm-oil biodiesel is a very good thing. We support it but there must be common testing that proves the B10 fuel does not cause excessive wear and tear.

“We have provided two diesel cars — an F10 and an F30 – for over a year for testing and we have asked MPIC to send the cars to BMW Malaysia’s HQ for us to tear down the engine and check the parts for wear and tear.

“Common testing means that BMW tests it together with MPIC and we share the data. We would like to see how our latest generation ?BMW ?320d and ?BMW ?520d that we have provided to MPIC have stood the test of B10,” he said.

The long term picture of what happens when palm oil prices recover is not discussed, which is surprising because palm oil prices like other world commodities are cyclical in nature and that prices will retrace their historic highs is inevitable.?

Even now, the price of palm oil bio-diesel is about RM3,200 per tonne which is equivalent to 1,184 litres? and RM2.00 a litre compared to Euro5 diesel at RM1.70 a litre.

Malaysia’s Euro2M and Euro5 diesel are both blended with seven per cent of bio-diesel at the oil companies’ dispatching premises.

B7 is the maximum concentration permitted by car companies. Levels above that will void engine warranties until they can get more test data on the effects of higher concentrations of palm oil bio-diesel in engines.

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