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‘Protecting Petronas more important than biodiesel R&D’

 | March 9, 2017

Think tank chief says Malaysia's weakness in biodiesel research may not have just been due to a lack of effort.

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PETALING JAYA: A think tank believes that Malaysia’s failure to make any breakthrough in biodiesel research despite being a major producer of palm oil isn’t just down to a lack of effort but a case of priorities.

Amin Ahmad, who is executive director of the Institute for Leadership and Development Studies (LEAD), said although he didn’t agree with protectionist policies, it would be difficult to argue that in the past the interests of the nation were better served in protecting Petronas.

He was responding to comments made by veteran economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram who said that discussions on biodiesel energy – that can be derived from palm oil – had been ongoing for at least 30 years, but with little research and development efforts.

Jomo said as a result of the insufficient research, Malaysia had not been able to make any breakthrough in biodiesel.

However, Amin said that economically, incentive mattered and he believed that looking at the bigger picture, the government may have felt the need to protect and prioritise Petronas – which supported the national budget for decades – was greater than the development of the biodiesel industry.

“There is also the factor that advance biodiesel as we know it today was an uncertainty in the past,” Amin said.
He added that though Jomo was right on the need to develop biodiesel in the country, there was no rush as continuous research was still required.

“We have to look beyond the use of biodiesel when we want to develop the industry. We need to look at the capacity needed to meet biodiesel demands.”

Amin noted that although biodiesel produced lesser carbon emissions than petroleum, there would still be an impact on the environment with huge tracts of land cleared for the planting of oil palm trees to ensure supply.

In the past, countries such as Cuba, Brazil and the United States enacted policies to promote biofuels such as bioethanol, derived from sugar cane, and biodiesel, derived from soybean oil.

In the 1960s, Malaysia shifted from the production of rubber to oil palm cultivation. It became the biggest producer of palm oil in the world before it was overtaken by Indonesia.

Yesterday, it was reported that Malaysia hopes to increase its biodiesel output from the current 500,000 tonnes a year to 800,000 to 900,000 tonnes a year.

Economist: Malaysia wasted opportunities to develop biodiesel


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