Palm oil-based jet fuel finally makes its debut in Indonesia

A CN 235-220 plane takes off for a fuel test in Bandung, West Java, on Sept. 9. One engine of the jet was powered by BioAvtur J2.4, an aviation fuel containing a small share of palm oil-based biofuel, while the other ran on regular fuel. - Jakarta Post/ANN

JAKARTA, Sept 12 (Jakarta Post/ANN): A consortium of Indonesian companies, regulators and one university has begun a series of tests on an aviation fuel containing a small share of biofuel derived from palm oil, responding to a government mandate on the increased domestic use of the commodity through biofuel blending.

The consortium started nine days of flight tests on Thursday for an aviation turbine fuel (avtur) dubbed Bioavtur J2.4, of which 2.4 percent is biofuel made from refined palm oil.

The first test was conducted using a CN 235-220 plane that flew 10,000 feet above West Java, according to several press statements.

Earlier in the week on Monday, the consortium completed a ground test with an aircraft at Husein Sastranegara Airport in Bandung, West Java. Aircraft Capt. Adi Budi Atmoko found that “the engine's response was normal, with no discernable difference to [regular jet] fuel".

State-owned oil and gas giant Pertamina produced the fuel using a catalyst developed by the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), while state-owned aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI) provided the aircraft and test site, and the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry supervised the test.

“This test is hoped to support the use of vegetable oil-based fuels in the aerospace industry and improve energy security, especially in combining avtur with palm oil,” said PTDI commerce, technology and development director Gita Amperiawan.

He said a test flight to Soekarno Hatta International Airport was planned for Sept. 15, pending approval from the Indonesian Military Airworthiness Authority (IMAA).

The test results would provide input for the IMAA, the Transportation Ministry and PTDI about adopting bioavtur, better known globally as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Indonesia meant to start using avtur containing 2 percent biofuel in 2016 and 3 percent last year under Energy and Mineral Resources Ministerial Regulation No. 12/2015 but failed to do so for technical and economic reasons. The regulation also mandates biofuel blending for diesel and gasoline, but the latter

Bioavtur’s debut signals a possible resumption of Indonesia’s biofuel blending policy, which is meant to reduce the country's reliance on imported oil, raise the consumption of homegrown palm oil and cut carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

“Producing [bioavtur] would be good for domestic interests, but similar to the biodiesel program, there are issues related to climate change and social conflicts, such as land conflicts [...] — basically, the issues of the palm oil industry,” Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA) energy economist Alloysius Joko Purwanto has announced.

Citing an International Energy Agency (IEA) report, he estimated that a 2 percent biofuel-based avtur would be 2.5 to 4 percent more expensive than regular fuel.

He also pointed out that Pertamina’s aviation fuel refining capacity was relatively small. “The problem is how to compensate for the price difference of mixing bioavtur if this were implemented,” said Joko.

SAF has been gaining popularity worldwide over the past decade with the influential International Air Transport Association (IATA) underscoring it as a key element in reducing aviation industry emissions.

Norway and Finland have introduced mandatory biofuel blending requirements for aviation fuel, while other European countries and the United States are either planning similar regulations or have regulations expected to spur adoption.

“Bioavtur must be used as soon as possible, especially for international flights that mandate biofuel usage to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” said the energy ministry’s bioenergy director, Adriah Feby Misnah.

The ministry said this month’s flight test was its third with bioavtur, following static engine tests in December 2020 and in May this year.

The engine tests, which used a test cell owned by state-owned PT Garuda Maintenance Facility (GMF) AeroAsia, found a similar performance between regular Jet A1 fuel and Bioavtur J2.0 and J2.4.

Pertamina’s refining subsidiary, PT Kilang Pertamina Internasional (KPI), wrote in a statement on Wednesday that the company had been developing and testing bioavtur at a lab-scale since 2014 at its Dumai and Cilacap refineries.

Bioavtur J2.4 contains 2.4 percent vegetable fuel, which is the maximum we can achieve with existing catalyst technology. - Jakarta Post/ANN

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