ANALYSIS: Biofuel for UAE fleets?

Dubai Municipality and Neutral Fuels have penned an agreement concerning the supply of locally produced biodiesel for municipal vehicles.
Biofuel, Environmental awareness, Fleets, NEWS

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by James Morgan

Dubai is the most environmentally friendly city in the Middle East, and Abu Dhabi is hot on its heels.

Those are the findings of consultancy Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Index published in February, which ranked 50 of the world’s most prominent cities according to environmental progress, living viability, and financial stability.

The UAE’s major cities might have secured the top regional spots, but it’s important to keep in mind their international rankings of 33 and 34, respectively. Nevertheless, the country is ahead of the pack when it comes to sustainability in the Gulf and wider Levant region

Of course, there is still a way to go before either Dubai or Abu Dhabi can begin to push for the global top spot, which was scooped by the German city of Frankfurt. This gap doesn’t appear to be dampening spirits within the Emirates, however, as authorities and industry continue to push the green agenda.

Encouragingly, much of this activity seems to be taking place within the UAE’s PMV sector.

Recently, Dubai Municipality and Neutral Fuels penned an agreement concerning the supply of locally produced biodiesel for municipal vehicles.

The deal, which was signed amidst festivities for the Emirate’s sixth annual Car Free Day, makes way for the provision of biodiesel produced exclusively in Dubai.

The fuel – made from used vegetable oil and boasting significant CO2 emissions reductions compared to conventional diesel – will be produced at Neutral Fuels’ refinery in Dubai Investments Park (DIP).

“As part of this agreement, we will provide Dubai Municipality with biofuel for its fleet,” commented Karl Feilder, chairman and CEO of the Dubai-headquartered biodiesel producer.

“This is the first time ever that a municipality has committed to purchasing biofuel that is 100% produced in its own city – with waste from that city – to run its municipal vehicles. This shows that Dubai Municipality is obviously in line with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision to make Dubai the most sustainable city in the world,” he said.

Aside from the immediate environmental benefits associated with this fuel, the product could also serve to speed up the introduction of the latest engine technologies to the region. The biodiesel produced by Neutral Fuels is compatible with ultra-low-sulphur diesel (ULSD) engines commonly used in highly regulated markets like North America, Europe and parts of Asia Pacific.

“When you combine the latest engines with biodiesel, you find that they run cleaner, more efficiently, and with fewer emissions,” said Feilder.

“Also, as this fuel is produced by recycling used vegetable oil, there is a smaller carbon footprint associated with the overall manufacturing process,” he explained.

Another advocate for the swift regional introduction of the latest engine technologies is Babar Ahmed, division manager for BP Lubricants at UAE-based equipment dealer Genavco. He said that modern engines – in combination with synthetic fluids designed to keep them running – could ultimately benefit both the environment and end users.

“Within fields such as commercial vehicles and construction, environmental concerns play an important role in driving change,” he said.

“For instance, in the European and North American markets, specific engines and grades of lubricant have been made mandatory by legislators. We have seen similar measures introduced in the UAE.

"This market is becoming very active in this regard; governmental departments have already issued official documents stipulating that certain lubricants be discontinued,” Ahmed explained.

In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve – both in terms of governmental legislation and engine technology – Genavco is concentrating its efforts on a particular segment of the lubricants market.

“We are focused on synthetic lubricants,” Ahmed revealed. “This is the future of the market. Modern engines are getting smaller, faster, and more efficient, but they require synthetic lubricants in order to run efficiently.

“Synthetic lubricants offer a bundle of benefits. Machines and vehicles don’t have to visit the garage as often; these products are designed to last for longer intervals. They can also help to cut fuel costs. And basically, if you want to make use of all of the horsepower offered by your fancy car, you need to use synthetic lubricants,” he explained.

Gradually – through outfits such as Neutral Fuels and Genavco – it seems that advanced fuels and lubricants are infiltrating the UAE market. This, in turn, should do much to encourage original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to bring their latest engine technologies to the region.

However, the fact that these technologies are available won’t necessarily result in their adoption by end users.

So, is there a genuine appetite for environmental progress within the region’s PMV industry?

One organisation convinced by the need to move to a more sustainable model is Dubai’s Gulf Indian High School, a Neutral Fuels customer that uses locally produced biodiesel to fuel its 30-strong fleet of school buses.

“We took the decision to collect used cooking oil from our school, send it to [Neutral Fuels], and purchase the refined biodiesel to run our fleet of buses,” explained Anam Hussain, the school’s director of communications.

Pupils at Gulf Indian High School were encouraged to provide used vegetable oil for the initiative, which. in turn, was delivered to Neutral Fuels via specially designed containers.

“We were surprised to see the amount of oil that was collected within one week. We didn’t expect so much interest, but the students saw this as a challenge,” added Hussain.

Clearly, there is no shortage of enthusiasm for sustainability at Gulf Indian High School, and with Dubai Municipality as its latest convert, Neutral Fuels appears to have a receptive audience in Dubai.

But what about the lubricants sector? Ahmed says that while there is interest from certain quarters, widespread change will take time to occur in such a price-conscious market.

“The shift from conventional to synthetic lubricants will not be easy to achieve,” he warned.

“Genavco is educating mechanics and fleet owners about the benefits of these products. We want to help them understand why synthetic lubricants are important.

“The problem is that if the shift doesn’t happen soon, it’s going to negatively impact end-users in the longer term. Costs will be added to the upkeep of their machinery, and to their fuel bills. That’s not to mention the environment,” he added.

Regardless of the challenges that lie ahead, Feilder sees this as an ideal window to drive change within the industry.

“I think that this is a fantastic opportunity for vehicle and construction equipment manufacturers to start selling their latest technologies into Dubai. It’s important that local fleet owners have access to these models,” he said.

“[Neutral Fuels] is going to put some of the vehicles on trial, and we’re hoping to get vehicle manufacturers directly involved. We’ve been successful in doing this in other countries, and it will represent another first for the Middle East,” Feilder concluded.

Far away from the pioneers operating at the forefront of the UAE’s green fuels and lubricants sector, the Government of Dubai is battling against the trade in illegal diesel.

Such fuel poses a threat to the UAE’s long-term sustainability as it does not comply with the Euro 5-compliant standard now compulsory across the Emirates.

High-profile stakeholders, including the RTA, Dubai Police, and ENOC, have joined forces to identify and punish violators.

“We thank all the government entities and stakeholders for their support in activating the UAE Federal Cabinet decision number 37 of 2013, which mandates the use of low-sulphur, eco-friendly diesel across the UAE, and for their efforts to reduce illegal trade,” commented ENOC’s CEO, Saeed Khoory.

“ENOC is committed to working with the concerned authorities to curb illegal trading of diesel and taking prompt action against such vendors as their activities not only cause considerable economic losses, but also leave a lasting, detrimental impact on the environment,” he added.

Recent government reports suggest that there has been a rise in illegal diesel trade in the Emirates, including diesel theft. Dubai Police has taken measures to address this issue, studying causes, identifying gaps, and suggesting appropriate actions to hamper criminal activity.

Several companies and agents operating illegally have already been fined as part of the ongoing inspection campaign.

The government stakeholders have stated that the campaign to curb the illegal trade in diesel will continue until “it is clearly visible” that the sector is adhering to the relevant regulations.

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