8 February 2023

Palm oil-derived biodiesel to replace diesel by 2030


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Amidst growing environmental concerns and diminishing sources of fossil fuels, biodiesel has been considered as a potentially viable alternative. Years of extensive research has been poured into biodiesels and their use as transportation fuel. For Malaysia, palm oil has been seen as an important diesel substitute especially since the country is one of the biggest palm oil producers and exporters in the world. The B20 biodiesel, a combined blended fuel derived from palm oil and cottonseed, has been proven to be an effective substitute for diesel that does require any significant modifications to diesel engines.

As fossil fuel reserves continue to be depleted and people become more concerned about the negative environmental impacts caused by the current fossil fuel-based energy production industry, there is in turn a growing demand for environmentally-friendly renewable energy sources.

One of these sources for renewable energy is biodiesel, methyl esters derived from food crops. Since the oil crisis of 1973, extensive was conducted into the use of biodiesels as an alternative to petroleum and other oil-derived fuels.

Indeed, many European countries are already selling biodiesel commercially. In France, for example, 2000 motorised vehicles including buses and trucks are running on rape seed biodiesel as part of a test to investigate the oil’s lubricating effect on engines.

As the second largest palm oil producers and exporters in the world, Malaysia is naturally concerned with palm oil’s effectiveness as a biodiesel, especially since as a local producer, it does not need to spend too much money on the biodiesel.

Prof. Abul Kalam of University of Malaya’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, together with Prof. Masjuki, had studied palm oil diesel’s properties in order to determine its potential as an alternative fuel.

Prof. Abul Kalam

“My expertise is to test this palm biodiesel fuel in transport engines to evaluate the performance, combustion, exhaust emissions, and effect on engine lubrication,” says Prof. Kalam in regard to the purpose of this study, “Moreover, as a mechanical engineer, I felt I improved my scientific knowledge to adapt the alternative fuels for IC engines without significant modifications.”

In a later study, Prof. Kalam along with several other researchers from Malaysia and Pakistan studied the properties of a combined blended biodiesel derived from palm oil and cottonseed esters called B20.

B20 is a series of combined blended fuels designed to combine the benefits of palm oil biodiesel (high calorific value) and cottonseed oil biodiesel (low kinematic viscosity and acid value).

The study compared the physiochemical, performance, emission and tribological (surface interaction) properties of the various B20 blends in order to determine their suitable as alternative fuels.

Prof. Kalam testing his biodiesel at the Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Malaya

The researchers found that while all of the blends demonstrated superior performance (i.e. low brake thermal efficiency) and lower emissions compared to petroleum-based diesels, the blend C10P10 had the best results and therefore can considered for usage in diesel engines without the need to make any engine modifications.

Biodiesel’s potential as a fossil fuel alternative is hampered by its higher prices. This is the result of its greater production costs due to a large number of factors (e.g. regional prices, labour, land and processing plant costs etc.). In order to make biodiesel economically viable, new lower-cost methods of producing it must be developed.

And Prof. Abul Kalam’s group is leading the way to fulfil Malaysia’s commitment to reach the 30 percent target of biodiesel usage by 2030.


  1. Jamshaid, M., Masjuki, H.H., Kalam, M.A., Zulkifli, N.W.M., Arslan, A., Qureshi, A.A. (2020) Experimental investigation of performance, emissions and tribological characteristics of B20 blend from cottonseed and palm oil biodiesels. Energy, 239(2022), 121894. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2021.121894
  2. Kalam, M.A., Masjuki, H.H. (2002) Biodiesel from palm oil – An analysis of its properties and potential. Biomass and Bioenergy, 23(6), 471-479. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0961-9534(02)00085-5