By: Nawa Tunggal / Kompas

Potential Production of Second Generation Biofuels

The original article was written in Bahasa Indonesia. Translation by Michael Putrawenas.

Indonesia has a huge potential to produce second generation biofuel that can be produced from waste, residue, and non-crop plants. Second generation biofuel does not compete with sugarcane, corn, wheat, palmoil, or other plants that require large area of land such as jatropha.

Second generation biofuel technology is not necessarily an alien concept in the world of biology, chemistry, or physics. This technology is capable to integrate existing scientific theories into an alternative to meeting future energy demand which is environmentally friendly.

Feedstock that can be used to produce second generation biofuel is among others liquid waste from various sources. It can be from household, industry, or agriculture. Because of its nature and abundant stock, liquid waste is considered as a highly potential feedstock.

“Urban society in developed countries often face severe environmental challenge because of the liquid waste they produce. These kinds of society will need an application of second generation biofuel,” says Tim Grotenhuis, environmental scientist at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, to Kompas who was invited by Netherlands Education Support Office (NESO) Indonesia, last Friday (21/9).

NESO is a subordinate of Dutch Ministry for Education that runs programs to promote Dutch higher education as well as channeling scholarships to Indonesian young professionals. Wageningen University is one of the research universities that focuses on biotechnology (and bioenergy).

Tim Grotenhuis also explains that Wageningen University is conducting a variety of biotechnology research programs. One of them is to develop jatropha as a substitute to fossil-based diesel. Another program is to develop blue energy from ionization of fresh water and salt water to generate electricity.

Due to time constraints of our visit, Tim offerred to specifically show the project that generate energy from liquid waste. The project was chosen because of its high relevance to the problems faced in developing countries such as Indonesia.

According to Tim, up until now the treatment of liquid waste is still focused on recycling to fresh or drinking water. Second generation biofuel can play its role to optimize waste treatment by producing energy and nutrient. The only byproduct from biofuel cell technology is fresh water – making this technology most environmentally friendly and can support drinking water supply.

Other than energy, it also produces nutrient such as phosphor and nitrogen that are of great use for plants like algae. The most important application for second generation biofuel is to produce hydrogen as fuel cell. Hydrogen production is preceded by producing methane.

The natural process of producing methane can be seen in the decomposition process of household waste from its solid and acid elements. Methane emerges from the solid waste, while the acid is recycled into water. The remains of the solid waste then undergo anaerobic process and releases methane and carbon dioxide. From the methane gas, 90% hydrogen can be produced by heating it up to 400-500 degree Celcius and separation process through catalyst membrane that leaves CO2.

The hydrogen is then ready to generate energy by fuel cell technology. Fuel cell technoloy with hydrogen fuel is not only useful to generate electricity, but can also be developed as transport fuel. Some countries are already developing such application.

“Second generation biofuel concept by using liquid waste as feedstock is categorically new and we are still researching to have an applicable technology,” says Grotenhuis.

Plant residue

An interesting application of second generation biofuel is mentioned by an Indnesian citizen working in the Netherlands, Michael Putrawenas (24). Michael, an alumni of Erasmus University, the Netherlands, at the moment works as carbondioxide strategy analyst at Shell Renewables. “Europe is very interested to develop second generation biofuels”, says Michael.

Michael gives an example that the company he works for is looking into producing cellulosic ethanol from plant fibre and residue of crop waste such as wheat. Shell is working with Iogen Corporation from Canada in its research.

Cellulosic ethanol research is pioneered by Shell since 2002. In 2006, Volkswagen joined Shell and Iogen Corporation to conduct feasibility study to be able to economically produce cellulosic ethanol in Germany.

Shell’s effort provides a glimpse of the potential from second generation biofuel.

The interesting challenge is that waste apparently can be processed into something much more valuable. This can only be done with more research into second generation biofuel.

The development of second generation biofuel is more than appropriate to be taken seriously in Indonesia. Methane gas is abundant especially with open dumping waste management.

Ironically, strategic bodies like the Technology Review and Application Body is still importing methane to produce hydrogen. So?

5 October 2007 (IPTEK)

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  • Byline

    Michael is a professional leader in the fields of energy investments, complex commercial deals, and sustainability with extensive international experience. His personal interests span from socio-political issues, history, and culture.

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