The G20 is a strategic multilateral meeting that connects major developed and developing countries in the world. Indonesia’s position as the G20 Presidency this year serves as a momentum to play a role in pushing the industry towards green energy. The world today has committed to gradually reduce use of fossil energy as fuel and switch to New and Renewable Energy (NRE).

In the transportation sector, the government is preparing alternative fuels that are environmentally friendly. The National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) is currently conducting research and development on bioethanol and hydrogen as environmentally-friendly alternative fuels. Bioethanol is one of the Biofuels (BBN) that can be used as an additive and substitute or blending for gasoline. In addition, research related to hydrogen as fuel for transportation is currently being developed as an effort to reduce emissions.

Bioethanol and Hydrogen, Environmentally Friendly Alternative Fuels

The BRIN 2nd generation (G2) bioethanol production pilot plant has been able to produce bioethanol up to a purity of over 99.6 percent (fuel grade). The bioethanol raw material for this G2 is lignocellulosic biomass from palm oil plantation waste in the form of oil palm empty fruit bunches (EFB), which is abundant in amount. This is considering that Indonesia is the number 1 producer of palm oil in the world.

The G2 bioethanol pilot plant at Puspiptek Serpong is the result of collaboration between BRIN and KOICA and aid from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Energeering, Co. Ltd.

Yanni Sudiyani, principal researcher at BRIN’s Advanced Chemical Research Center, has conducted research on making G2 bioethanol from various types of lignocellulosic biomass since 2008. She explained that lignocellulosic biomass has a polymer structure consisting of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin components. However, only cellulose and hemicellulose (holocellulose) can be converted into ethanol, while lignin as an inhibitor must be released through a pre-treatment process. The production process consists of 4 stages, namely pre-treatment, hydrolysis or cellulose saccharification using enzymes or microbes to produce sugar, then fermentation of sugar using Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, and lastly distillation and purification of ethanol.

The pre-treatment process for degrading lignin to separate it from holocellulose is an important step in the conversion process of lignocellulose to ethanol. Although many pre-treatment research projects have been carried out, the opportunity to develop this energy is still wide open because different raw materials need different pre-treatments, and there is no one general method that applies to all lignocellulosic materials.

“We are developing an efficient technology to remove as much lignin as possible and get as much cellulose as possible,” said Yanni.

Another challenge in the bioethanol production process, continued Yanni, is that the enzymes used are still imported, because Indonesia does not yet have enzymes with the same activity as commercial enzymes.

Currently, she and her team are developing pre-treatment technology research with a continuous system and developing pilot-scale integrated bioethanol production. Research on integrated hydrolysis and fermentation processes namely combination between saccharification and fermentation and consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) is also being carried out.

“Integrated here means, in addition to producing bioethanol, this system also considers the potential of process waste, namely pre-treatment waste and fermentation waste to become co-products, in the form of fine chemicals, lignin, and glutathione from fermentation waste as anti-oxidants, the raw materials for pharmaceutical, cosmetics, food and other applications. Residual waste from this process needs to be utilized, as the waste produced is in large amount, and if not used, it will pollute the environment.

“By reusing the remnants from the processing, the industrial activity as a whole will get benefit from an environmental point of view, and increase the added value of the resulting product. This is the medium for developing a circular economy,” said Yanni.

Use of ethanol as fuel oil mix can reduce CO2 emission by 70 to 90 percent compared to fuel with 90-octane equivalent. However, use of bioethanol as fuel at home still faces several challenges that need to be resolved, namely the physical properties of ethanol, commitment of supply of raw materials and data base and energy balance.

As for bioethanol, research related to hydrogen as fuel for transportation is being developed as an effort to reduce emission. Eniya Listiani Dewi, Principal Researcher from BRIN’s Energy Conversion and Conservation Research Center started her research in 2003 when she developed hydrogen fuel cell by converting hydrogen compounds into electricity through an electrochemical process, namely electron transfer. One of the applications is a motor with a capacity of 500 watts. In the last two years, she and her team have been developing hydrogen-fueled cars with a capacity of 1 kW and 2.5 kW.

Currently, the operational performance of the fuel cell she developed for the supply of 1 liter hydrogen gas can cover a distance of 1 km. However, this is considered far more fuel-inefficient than commercial hydrogen-fueled cars, for which 1 liter hydrogen gas can cover a distance of 7.5 km.

“So the result of my research is still 7 times more fuel-inefficient than commercial fuels. This is what I am pursuing now to make it more efficient and can be developed ourselves in Indonesia,” he said.

According to her, many ask questions how to get hydrogen energy sources. As hydrogen is a by-product or secondary energy, Eniya explained that hydrogen can be easily obtained from nuclear and water through the electrolysis method. Hydrogen can also be obtained from industries that use natural gas, such as cooking oil plants, glass factories, which steam reforming process will produce hydrogen gas. The energy can also be from generation IV nuclear power plants whose by product is hydrogen gas which will be the cheapest source of hydrogen gas in the future. Renewable hydrogen can also be obtained from the biomass gasification process.

The research currently developed is producing hydrogen from liquid palm oil waste.

“The liquid palm oil waste or palm oil mill effluent (POME) is treated with microbes to get glycerol, which produces hydrogen is the by product,” explained Eniya.

According to her, world leaders are starting to pay attention to the development of green hydrogen. “At the COP26 summit last year, many leaders talked about green hydrogen to achieve NZE,” she said.

He gave an example of application of green hydrogen technology in Germany that has plenty of solar cells and wind turbines. They successfully generate electricity used for the electrolysis of water and produces hydrogen.

“My current research is more on green hydrogen. In addition to solar cells and wind turbines, you can also use electricity from electricity surplus in PLN, especially in Java – Bali which can be used to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen, “she said.

According to Eniya, the use of hydrogen fuel technology for transportation in various countries depends on the transportation products used. For example, in Japan and Korea, they favor hydrogen for cars, unlike in Germany where they prefer it for long distance transportation.

In the last 3 years, her team have successfully converted gasoline-fueled vehicles to electric-fueled vehicles and subsequently covert electric vehicles to hydrogen-fueled vehicles using commercial fuel cells with several innovations in the control system to make it more efficient.

In addition, she and her team are currently developing a control system in hydrogen production and developing a mini hydrogen fueling system using green hydrogen from a combination of Solar Power Plant (PLTS) and Wind Power Plant. (PLTB).

According to her, one of efforts to reduce emission from the transportation sector is to use battery-based electric vehicles and hydrogen gas-based electric vehicles, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages and certainly different market segments. Use of hydrogen-fueled vehicles is more suitable for long-distance transportation, as hydrogen-fueled vehicles can travel long distances with only once refueling. The time needed for refueling hydrogen fuel is less than 3 minutes, the same as for gasoline. The downside is that the investment to set up hydrogen production infrastructure including fueling stations is high. Refueling electric vehicles takes quite some time, and even with fast charging station it takes up to 1.5 hours. Therefore, electric vehicles are more suitable for short distance transportation.

Research Upstream, Industry Downstream

Until the end of 2021, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources noted that the achievement of NRE mix target was 12.7 percent. This means that maximum efforts are needed to achieve the NRE target of 23 percent in the next 3 years.

In addition to research and innovation in the upstream sector, downstreaming of domestic NRE industry needs to be encouraged, not only utilizing existing natural resources, but also increasing its added value through research and innovation intervention.

Research often requires high cost, but energy independence is a non-negotiable ‘price’. Transition to clean energy with the inclusion of alternative energy must be addressed wisely, so that energy planning can on ‘paper’ be realized. BRIN through its research activities needs to continue to support the realization of NZE and encourage sustainable economic growth that focuses on the digital-green-blue economy (tnt).