Singapore, Indonesia Advocate Palm Oil As Aviation Fuel Pioneered By Biafran Scientists 56 Years Ago

Singapore, Indonesia Advocate Palm Oil As Aviation Fuel Pioneered By Biafran Scientists 56 Years Ago

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Singapore and Indonesia are currently pushing for the use of palm oil as feedstock for the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), a feat believed to have been pioneered 56 years ago by Professor Felix Oragwu and his team during the Nigerian Civil War.

Now ninety-year-old, Oragwu headed the Biafra Research and Production (RAP) that developed the improvised explosive devices, and rocket-propelled missiles popularly called Ogbunigwe. It was the same RAP that successfully processed palm oil into fuel that was used to power fighter jets during the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War that stretched between 1967 and 1970.

Penultimate Friday, Indonesia flew its first commercial flight using palm oil-blended jet fuel, as the world’s biggest producer of the commodity pushes for wider use of biofuels to cut fuel imports. Operated by flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, the Boeing 737-800NG aircraft carried more than 100 passengers from the capital Jakarta to Surakarta city, about 550km away.

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According to Garuda Indonesia chief executive Irfan Setiaputra, the airline conducted several tests, including a flight test on the new fuel earlier in October and an engine ground test in August.

The palm-oil blended jet fuel is produced by Indonesian state energy firm PT Pertamina at its Cilacap refinery, using hydro processed esters and fatty acid, or Hefa, technology and is made of refined bleached deodorised palm kernel oil.

Speaking at a regional meeting of transport ministers from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), Acting Transport Minister of Singapore, Chee Hong Tat said, “We should take a pragmatic approach based on science and evidence, instead of an ideological approach based on pre-conceived bias and dogma.”

Chee stated this during a summit with his Asean counterparts on September 4 when they gathered to deliberate on developing sustainable transport. His advocacy is in contrast to the European Union, which has banned the use of palm oil to manufacture SAF on the basis that palm oil production has been associated with deforestation.

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The European Union (EU) has imposed several rules over the years restricting palm oil imports, often sparking protests from Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s largest producers of palm oil.

The use of palm oil as a feedstock in SAF production has been controversial with fears about its use leading to deforestation. While there are concerns over whether palm oil has been sourced sustainably, proponents insist it is the most abundant feedstock.

Meanwhile, Oragwu had called for the Igbo to advance technological gains from the civil war, telling the BBC in a 2020 article entitled: ‘Remembering Nigeria’s Biafra war that many prefer to forget’ that: “Biafra would have been a technological nation and would have been able to compete with anybody. That is what makes me sad. By this time, we would have been competing with at least South Korea.”

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