Omani students unlock bio-diesel from algae

A group of young Omani chemical engineers have devised a novel technique of producing bio-diesel that they say, when suitably perfected and commercialised, has the potential to kickstart the growth of a lucrative biofuel industry in the Sultanate.

The six-member group — all graduates of the Salalah College of Technology — say their brand of bio-diesel is based on a certain species of algae commonly found in the Omani marine environment. Thus, the project not only has the potential to become a money-spinner for the Omani economy via the commercial production of bio-diesel as an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but it can also create employment for huge numbers of people engaged in the cultivation of algae as the primary resource.
“We have a surefire winner in this bio-diesel product,” said Saeed Salem al Harizi, Team Leader — Salalah Bio-diesel Project. “Our product, which has been laboratory tested in Salalah, as well as in the United States recently, has been found to an effective, more combustible, and affordable alternative to biofuel brands currently marketed around the world. If we do have the funding support to fine-tune our study, we are confident of coming up with an internationally reputable product that Oman can be proud of.”
Since they took the wraps off their innovative product, the team has been feted by various dignitaries, most notably the Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar. Local corporations, including Port of Salalah, Salalah Methanol and Dhofar Power Company, have also chipped in with financial support to fund their visit to the United States where their invention was showcased to experts there.
“The results of tests conducted in the US have been very heartening in terms of validating the calorific value of our fuel and other characteristics. But we have a long way to go before we can bring it to market. That will require some investment in a high-tech laboratory and workshop in Salalah, suitably equipped to help us come up with the optimum ingredients necessary to produce a winning biofuel formulation,” said Al Harizi.
A closely guarded secret is the type and combination of catalysts used to increase the calorific value and combustibility of the bio-diesel, according to the Project Leader, who is now working with his fellow inventors to apply for a patent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
“Once we get the requested funding support from the government, public and private sectors, we hope to continue our research into, for example, the specific species of algae that can contribute to a high-value bio-diesel product. Thereafter, we can invite local communities and SMEs to get involved in algae cultivation on an industrial scale.”
Aside from the promising economics of the project, bio-diesel production will also have immense strategic, economic and environmental benefits for Oman, says Al Harizi. “The Sultanate can look forward to establishing a new economic sector with the potential to create jobs, unleash business and investment opportunities, and spark growth on a wide scale on the back of this project. The advantages of a clean, environment-friendly and sustainable source of fuel are equally huge.”
Also part of Al Harizi’s team are Ali Mohammed Kashoub (Vice Chairman), Ali Mohammed Habsi, Salem Said Kashoub, Anwar Abdul Salem Fadhel, and Yasser Musallim Kashoub.

Conrad Prabhu