Ever since the nationwide introduction of B10 biodiesel was first mooted back in 2015, there’s been a lot of conjecture regarding the fuel’s suitability for Malaysia’s diesel-powered vehicles.
So far, a number of companies including BMW Group Malaysia, UMW Toyota Motor, Volkswagen Group Malaysia and Isuzu Malaysia have stated that their cars will not be able to use the fuel, with BMW in particular citing international studies on the potential engine damage biofuels can cause. As such, the wider perception is that the higher biodiesel blend is harmful to engines.
Not helping matters is the fact that the B10 rollout has been delayed several times – originally slated to come into force in October 2015, it was pushed back to June last year, then to December. Last we heard, the implementation has been deferred indefinitely, although that is said to have been due to the unfavourable price of crude palm oil versus that of regular diesel.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has sought to clear any misconceptions and address public concerns regarding B10 biodiesel, and as such it has shared its research and findings with paultan.org in order to present a clearer picture on just what kind of effect the fuel will have on diesel engines.
B10 biodiesel – a background
The B10 blend that was slated to be introduced at petrol stations nationwide consists of 10% palm methyl ester and 90% regular diesel fuel. Cleaner Euro 5 diesel will remain on a B7 blend, as will all diesel fuels sold in the highlands such as Cameron and Genting Highlands.
There are a number of reasons why Malaysia is pushing for higher biodiesel blends. The first is the potential of reduced air pollution – it is claimed that the switch to B10 biodiesel could cut emissions by an amount equivalent to 100,000 diesel vehicles on the road.
Increasing the blend would also reduce the dependency on fossil fuels, which would better safeguard the country against foreign exchange volatility. But of course, one very big reason is that Malaysia is the world’s second largest producer of palm oil, and the use of local resources as renewable fuel would indirectly support oil palm smallholders and related industries.
Biodiesel blends aren’t new here, of course. The country introduced B5 biodiesel in June 2011, followed by B7 in December 2014. But Malaysia has lagged behind certain countries, particularly Indonesia – the latter has been using B10 since 2013, then moved to B15 in 2015 and B20 last year. In fact, MPOB claims the usage of B20 there is at 90% versus regular diesel (B0).
Engine damage concerns regarding B10 biodiesel
Car manufacturers have raised issues with the use of B10 biodiesel, specifically the damage the fuel could cause to diesel engines. The list of potential problems is fairly long and includes fuel filter plugging, deposits on fuel injectors, material deterioration, engine oil dilution and degradation as well as component damage.
BMW Malaysia went one step further, highlighting a 2012 joint statement by five diesel injector manufacturers, Delphi, Denso, Bosch, Continental and Stanadyne, detailing the possible effects of fatty-acid methyl ester (FAME) biofuels – which includes palm methyl esters – on diesel engines.
While the companies did not specifically single out any ‘bad’ blends, and understood the need for continually revising standards, they raised issues regarding reduced fuel stability (leading to “plugged filters, sediments and sticking moving parts”), impurities in the fuel and compatibility issues with older vehicles (most likely affecting filters, hoses and seals) with the use of FAME in fuels.
However, MPOB pointed out that the statement itself stated that the European FAME standard EN 14214:2009 is being revised extensively to facilitate blending of up to B10, which the manufacturers support.
The board also drew our attention to fuel trials that it has conducted. The first phase, involving 31 vehicles running on regular diesel and B100 palm methyl ester, took place from 1986 to 1989, while the second phase with 36 buses running B0, B50 and B100 blends was conducted between 1990 and 1994. The ongoing third phase, involving 25 vehicles running on B10 and B20, has been going on since 2013.
Other bodies have also conducted tests, including DBKL and the Malaysian Biodiesel Association (MBA); Colombia also held trials on B5, B10, B20, B30 and B50 palm methyl ester blends from 2009 to 2010. But by far the most thorough test was conducted by the Japan Auto-Oil Programme (JATOP) and the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) from 2007 to 2011, which tested six different methyl esters.
All tests observed little to no fuel filter plugging or injector deposits. There was some degradation of engine oil using palm methyl esters, but they were within the acceptable limit of the used oil performance test. The tests also showed regular component wear and tear, as well as no significant impact on engine performance.
However, MPOB found issues with material deterioration, such as the peeling of fuel tank coatings and paintwork, hardened fuel hoses, erosion on copper and lead and the dissolving of chloroprene materials – the board suggested switching to Teflon coatings and stainless steel braided hoses.
Meanwhile, JATOP and JAMA’s testing of different methyl esters showed that palm methyl ester performed better than soy, walnut oil, coconut, rapeseed and jatropha methyl esters. In fact, in a B10 blend palm methyl ester was deemed to be slightly better than regular diesel in certain aspects, including fuel flow and engine torque, and was shown to have cleaned fuel injectors, whereas regular diesel did not.
Another test was conducted with B20 biodiesel on Denso fuel injectors in Japan, witnessed by an Indonesian government delegation in 2014. While the fuel was found to have deteriorated more quickly under high temperatures and affected the diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating of one injector, there was no change in fuel flow, nor any biopolymer deposits, after the test. Oxidation stability was quoted at 79 hours, lower than regular diesel at 113 hours, but way higher than B100’s eight hour figure.
JAMA’s feedback and conditions
For what it’s worth, JAMA has stated that it does not oppose Malaysia’s implementation of B10 biodiesel, so long as its conditions were met. These include a water content of less than 200 parts per million (ppm) and an oxidation stability of more than 35 hours, both of which MPOB has managed to accommodate.
The association also wanted the B10 blend to be limited to grades Euro 4 and below, so the Euro 5 diesel fuel currently sold in selected stations nationwide will remain on a B7 formulation. Diesel fuels sold in the highlands, such as Cameron and Genting Highlands, will also stick to a B7 blend, due to concerns over the gelling of biodiesel at lower temperatures.
However, JAMA has also stated that warranty coverage would be provided at the discretion of vehicle manufacturers, and is not guaranteed by the association.
So, is it safe?
As far as MPOB is concerned, the bevy of laboratory and real-world engine testing conducted both locally and in other countries shows that there will be no problems that will arise from B10 biodiesel. It has also stated that both it and the ministry of plantation industries and commodities (MPIC) will continue to engage relevant stakeholders in order to ensure a smooth implementation of the B10 programme.
During the presentation, it stressed that the B10 blend only represents a 3% increase in biodiesel content, and said that it believes carmakers would provide the same level of warranty after the B10 rollout. Of course, we would recommend that users clarify with the respective companies before using B10 biodiesel.
So far, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia has stated that its diesel-powered vehicles, which consist of the CLS 250d and GLE 250d, as well as the discontinued E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid, would be compatible with B10 biodiesel – rescinding an earlier, contradictory statement. Nasim has given the same reassurance for the Peugeot 508 GT HDi.
Manufacturers providing conditional coverage for vehicles powered by B10 biodiesel include Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Scania and Volvo Trucks, while BMW, CAMC, Ford, Grand Tiger, Hyundai, Isuzu, JLR, Mazda, Mitsubishi Fuso, Kia, Porsche and Chevrolet have said that their cars cannot be powered by the fuel. However, Isuzu has stated that its light- and medium-duty lorries (not pick-ups or older models, which cannot use B10) will be compatible with B10 biodiesel after a change of hoses.
Overall, while consumers should still be cautious about using B10 biodiesel and make sure that their vehicles are compatible with the fuel before using it, it does appear that the issue has been made more serious than it actually is. For those of you who are wary, or own a car that cannot be run on B10, there’s always B7 Euro 5 diesel as an answer.