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Home > Higher Education > fuel: A ray of hope for Sri Lanka’s energy crisis – Department of Civil and Environmental Technology, Faculty of Technology, University of Sri Jayewardenepura

fuel: A ray of hope for Sri Lanka’s energy crisis – Department of Civil and Environmental Technology, Faculty of Technology, University of Sri Jayewardenepura

Sri Lanka is currently in the midst of an economic and energy crisis. Due to a rapid surge in commodity prices and a fuel shortage, tens of thousands of people wait for hours outside fuel filling stations. For public transportation and thermal power generation in the country, Diesel is the second most used fuel behind gasoline. As a result, the fuel issue directly impacts the Sri Lankan transportation system and electrical power generation.
The power crisis is at its peak now, where many people face long periods of power outages on a daily basis. Sri Lanka, which is still fighting for funds to import enough fuel, declared ten-hour daily power cuts across the country last week, which officials claim is the country’s most prolonged period of power cuts in more than 25 years.
Apart from interfering with daily activities at home, the extended power outages have strained businesses such as shops, malls and restaurants, especially at a time when authorities are frantically attempting to boost tourism post-Covid pandemic.
The main reason for this was the rise in global prices as well as the devaluation of the Sri Lankan rupee versus the dollar following the government’s decision on March 7, 2022 to allow the currency to float freely. As a result, the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has increased the price of 92 octane petrol to Rs.338 per litre, an increase of Rs.84, the price of 95 octane petrol to Rs.373 per litre, an increase of Rs.90, the price of Diesel to Rs. 289 per litre, an increase of Rs. 113, the price of Lanka super diesel to Rs. 329 per litre, an increase of Rs. 75 bringing it in line with the per litre price charged by Lankan Indian Oil Company (LIOC).
This was the second price increase by CPC in less than a month, whereas the LIOC’s price increase last week was the sixth in less than six months.
Sri Lanka spends approximately 500 million USD each month on fuel purchases. Early in February, India and Sri Lanka struck an agreement under which India would provide 500 million USD in assistance to the island nation in order to aid it with gasoline imports. An 80,000-metric-ton (MT) shipment of petroleum from the Indian Oil Corporation arrived in Sri Lanka on February 15, 2022. By the end of February, the administration was having trouble coming up with 35 million USD to pay for another 40,000-tonne consignment of fuel. According to the Monthly Economic Indicators of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka for February, the Ceylon petroleum cooperation sold 220, 000 MT of Diesel to consumers in January 2022. Because of this, Sri Lanka imports approximately 6 billion USD worth of crude oil, refined petroleum, and other petroleum-based products each year. This is a significant percentage of money when compared to the annual costs.
Biofuels: An alternative solution?
Much study has been done on alternative energy sources due to environmental concerns, rising costs of petroleum goods and a diminishing supply of fossil fuels. Decision makers worldwide are paying attention to biofuel because of its renewable nature, lower carbon footprint and biodegradability.
Many people believe that biodiesel is an environmentally friendly and renewable alternative to petroleum-based Diesel. Biodiesel is preferred by countries worldwide because of its renewable, biodegradable and low-emission characteristics. Due to the chemical and physical similarities between biodiesel and petrochemical diesel, it is possible to utilise it directly in diesel engines without changing their current layout.
Biodiesel derived from waste cooking oil (WCO) has been successfully developed by researchers at the Department of Civil and Environmental Technology, Faculty of Technology, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to the laboratory testing results, the quality of the biodiesel met the ASTM D6571 international standard. Senior Lecturer, Dr. Udara S.P.R. Arachchige; Senior Lecturer, Dr. Randika A. Jayasinghe; Senior Lecturer, Dr. Nuwan A. Weerasekara; M. Phil Student, K.A. Viraj Miyuranga and Research Assistant, Manoj Balasuriya are the members of the study team.
Biodiesel Production
Transesterification is considered the most common way of producing biodiesel from edible or non-edible oils. In this process, vegetable oil, which consists largely of triacylglycerols, is reacted with low molecular weight alcohol with the support of a catalyst to produce biodiesel and glycerol.
The economic feasibility of biodiesel depends on the availability of low-cost feed stocks. One way of reducing biodiesel production costs is to use cheap raw materials. Several types of non-edible oils, waste vegetable oils and animal fats are widely used in biodiesel production. There are several oils available in Sri Lanka. However, edible oils should not be used for biodiesel production as their consumption value; market prices will increase. Therefore, biodiesel production mainly focuses only on non-edible oil.
The production cost of one litre of biodiesel is around 200 rupees. The majority of the cost involves the raw material cost. However, if we produce B20, which is 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel, we can replace 20% of the petroleum diesel with biodiesel. Then to produce 1 L of B20 blend, 20 Rupees can be saved. Besides that, biodiesel can be produced locally and does not use up the foreign currency. If we consider the waste cooking oil generated by the well-known restaurant chains, there is a possibility of 8000 Tonnes of biodiesel production locally.
Vehicle Testing
Fuel consumption of biodiesel was tested for a diesel three-wheeler. The 30 kilometers travel with 1 litre of biodiesel has been recorded. There is no impact on the engine efficiency with the biodiesel or blend of biodiesel. It has almost similar fuel efficiency to biodiesel and blended biodiesel.
Currently, used cooking oil from main restaurants and hotels is resold at 70 rupees per litre for other industries and small vendors. We have to initiate a system to collect the waste cooking oil for biodiesel production. If the government could support with policy implementation, this technology can be used to produce significant volumes of biodiesel to replace fossil diesel.
Vehicle emission testing results show that the K factor (Smoke Opacity at Instant acceleration), the most critical value for the test, is significantly less for blended biodiesel. We have analysed the emission tests conducted at two different emission test centres in Colombo. Both results show that we have reduced the flue gas emission considerably with the biodiesel.
Biofuel is not a dream anymore. We have to take one step forward to change and introduce new policies to implement and establish biofuel production as soon as possible without further delay. Policy changes in Sri Lanka to utilise waste cooking oil from restaurants to make biodiesel could be a win-win situation for the country.
It is time for the decision-makers to actively pay attention to introducing alternative fuel sources to the market. In this context, biofuel could be a ray of hope for the energy crisis we are facing today.

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