UBD research into biofuel production from acacia

National 2 minutes, 9 seconds


A RESEARCH team from Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) is working on developing biofuel by processing an invasive plant species in the country.

“Acacia is a plant species that is invasive in Brunei. These species grow very fast and after a forest fire, it is usually the first thing that would grow (back),” said Dr Muhammad Saifullah Abu Bakar, UBD lecturer in Chemical and Process Engineering from the Faculty of Integrated Technologies.

According to Dr Muhammad Saifullah, Brunei currently disposes of the plant as waste material after cutting them down.

The research, however, is currently working to produce biofuel by processing these acacia waste material by pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is a form of treatment that chemically decomposes organic materials by heat in the absence of oxygen.

“During pyrolysis, we crush the biomass which is the acacia tree and put it in a pyrolysis reactor. Once the process is complete, we will get bio-oil, bio-gas and bio-char. What we want to do is concentrate on (producing) more of the bio-oil which is (used) for energy purposes,” added Dr Muhammad Saifullah.

Funded by the Brunei Research Council, the research is collaborated between UBD’s Faculty of Integrated Technology, Faculty of Science and Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Research. The team is made up of three lecturers and one PhD student.

“This process has been done before in other countries but with different samples. (Processing) acacia however, is not as common so this is quite unique to Brunei. We are also killing two birds with one stone because (we are controlling an invasive plant in our) biodiversity and using it to produce bio-oil,” said Dr Muhammad Saifullah.

According to Ashfaq Ahmed, a UBD PhD student in Chemical and Process Engineering, the research has been ongoing for 10 months and is currently determining the energy content of the different parts of the acacia tree.

“We’re still in the initial stages. We want to screen the biomass and check the energy content of the different part of the acacia tree like the branches, the bark, and the leaves and determine how we can produce the bio-oil (cost-effectively) for Brunei,” said Ashfaq.

He added that initial experiments have been successful at converting 40 to 70 per cent of the acacia tree into biofuel depending on the reactor and methods being used.

“Once we get the bio-oil we can upgrade it to renewable diesel for transportation.

“Producing bio-oil is easy, but upgrading it to renewable diesel to be applied to cars and commercial purposes is quite a challenge but not impossible,” said Dr Muhammad Saifullah.

The Brunei Times