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Biofuel Increasingly important amid expensive oils

Jakarta, (ANTARA News) - Much has been said about developing and using alternative energy in Indonesia but not much of it has been realized so far.

A discourse on it, however, emerged again in recent days as the world crude price is sky-rocketing, forcing the government to raise domestic fuel oil prices.

Academics and experts are now being urged to conduct more research to identify alternative energy products in anticipation of an energy crisis with the crude price in the world market having reached US$135 per barrel.

"We are encouraging researchers to continue studying alternative energy sources that could replace expensive fuel oils," the rector of West Sumatra-based University of Andalas (Unand), Prof. Dr Musliar Kasim. said over the weekend.

The Unand rector`s appeal is relevant given the country`s land potentials to grow cassava, maize and sweet potato plants which could be developed to produce bio-diesel and bio-ethanol.

"West Sumatra has the potentials to develop cassava, maize and sweet potato plantations to produce vegetable-based fuel oils," Musliar Kasim said.

He said Unand was backing the government`s appeal to the people to work together in overcoming the energy crisis in the country following the significant increases in fuel oil prices.

besides maize, other agricultural commodities such as palm oil, coconut, jatropha curcas and kapok were also potential sources for bio-diesel production as alternative energy to replace diesel oil.

Bio-ethanol can be produced from maize, cassava, sago and sweet potato and replace premium gasoline.

But the agricultural product that has the greatest potential of serving as an alternative energy source to replace premium is oil palm waste which can be converted into ethanol. Malaysia recently developed this kind of energy, said Kasim.

According to Ahmadin Luthfi of the National Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), palm oil (CPO) wastes can also be processed further into bio-diesel as vegetable-based fuel or an alternative to diesel oil.

Bio-ethanol can also be produced from maize. In Kebumen district, Central Java, for example, a factory processing maize into bio-ethanol has been established. The factory which is managed by PT Bio Prima Energi Mandiri was the first of its kind to operate in Central Java.

Kebumen District Head Rustrianingsih, who officiated at the factory`s commissioning last week, said the presence of the maize-based bio-ethanol factory was urgently needed amid the shrinking of natural oil reserves.

"Now is the time for the government and private businesses to think of producing alternative energy amid the upward trend of fuel oil prices," Ristrianingsih said.

She said that the establishment of the factory was supported by the region`s maize production potentials which in 2007 reached 27,202.69 tons.

Owing to declining oil reserves and increasing fuel oil prices, the prospect of alternative energy businesses in the country is virtually bright.

However, careful studies and researches are needed to assure the potentials of other sources of energy other than oil.

"We are encouraging researchers to continue carrying out studies on renewable energy resources in West Sumatra because this province has extensive land for the development of bio-fuel plants. West Sumatra has supporting suitable climate conditions," Musliar Kasim said.

Such an activity is really important owing to the fact that in the last several years Indonesia`s national oil production capacity has continued to decline.

Due to the decline in its oil production, Indonesia is planning to quit the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) next year.

Indonesia`s oil production reached its first peak in 1977, at approximately 1.6 million barrels per day, rising from 500,000 barrels per day in just 10 years. Production peaked a second time 1995, again just over 1.6 million barrels a day.

Since 1995, production has steadily declined and in 2006 was down to just 1 million barrels per day, or roughly a 37.5 percent decline, making the country a net oil importer.

Earlier in 2007, the government announced a target of increasing oil and gas production by 30 percent to 1.3 million barrels per day and 8.5 billion cubic feet per day, respectively by 2009.

The average oil production of the country in the January-May 2008 period, however, was still recorded at 977,835 bpd.

In order to find alternative energy sources in the wake of the decline in the country`s oil production, the government is called on to provide more funds for researchers to carry out their studies. In Unand, for example, there are about more 1,000 researchers who are ready to carry out studies.

"They have produced 118 research findings and spent some Rp7 billion on their work since 2007," Musliar Kasim said.(*)