University in Dubai on a mission to turn palm waste into biofuel

Nandini Sircar/Dubai
Filed on January 23, 2021

(Wikimedia Commons)

Fallen leaves are gathered and raw materials are shredded to produce biomass pellets.

A university in Dubai is embarking on a project to turn the waste of the region’s vast palm tree crop into sustainable and cost-effective biofuel.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Dubai is collaborating with a Saudi-based engineering group, Jubail Pearl, to produce and commercialise biofuel production from oil-palm and palm-oil wastes.

Over the last decades, the palm oil industry has been growing rapidly due to increasing demands for food, cosmetic and hygienic products. Tapping into such opportunities, the UAE has been leveraging its abundant renewable resources and partnering with global companies to reduce its carbon footprint.

Under the initiative, fallen leaves of trees are gathered and raw materials are shredded to produce biomass pellets that are both energy-efficient and carbon neutral.

Speaking about the initiative, Dr Yousef Al Assaf said: “Sustainability is a major pillar of our strategy at RIT, both in Dubai and New York, and it is one of four fundamental themes that define our new campus development. Senior and graduate level engineering students will have the opportunity to take part in the experiments. We need to prepare ourselves for the post-oil economy and this initiative is the first step in our long-term commitment to developing a new energy portfolio for the future of society.”

An ancient natural resource that was once used for fuel to heat homes and bake bread — the palm tree has now found a future as a renewable source of energy, thanks to modern science.

This method called ‘pelletisation’ is far less expensive as compared to traditional fossil fuels, in terms of extraction, logistics and processing.

The waste is collected from trees that have shed or fallen naturally, saving the cost of transporting and processing palm waste through landfill.

Research and development in this direction has been going on at the university for over five years now. The centre is being fit out with the equipment and will start operations when the university’s new campus opens in March.

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