Indonesia’s Oil and Gas Company to Launch Bioethanol Gasoline

According to the company’s CEO, the move is part of their energy transition effort, which is not only focused on reducing carbon emissions. State-owned oil and gas giant Pertamina will launch its maiden bioethanol product this month with a 5 percent mixture in its Pertamax product, a gasoline with research octane number (RON) of 92.

Pertamina CEO Nicke Widyawati said the bioethanol was developed from the waste of sugarcane processing to sugar. It assured the move will not disrupt food supplies needed by the general public. “In the future, we can also make it from cassava and corn. We will do more research,” Nicke told reporters in a media briefing on Tuesday, June 6th.

Indonesia has become a net importer of oil and fuel for decades after the country suffered a decline in its domestic production a long time ago. More than a third of the country’s fuel consumption is met with imports, according to Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry (ESDM)’s Handbook of Energy and Economic Statistics of Indonesia in 2022.

Relying imports have caused a strain in the government budget, as fuel subsidies swelled following a weakening rupiah against the United States dollar and high international oil prices.

According to Nicke, “More importantly for Indonesia, it is an attempt to establish energy independence, as we will develop [fuel] that, based on the country’s natural resources,”

Pertamina CEO Nicke Widyawati (left), accompanied by director of finance Emma Sri Martini, speaks at a media briefing event on June 6. Source: Asianews Network 

Aside from shifting to plant-based fuel, Indonesia has been improving its refinery capacity to reduce fuel imports, while struggling to raise domestic oil production to cut crude imports.

Pertamina’s vice president for corporate communications Fadjar Djoko Santoso explained that the development process of the bioethanol product had passed the trial phase in Surabaya, East Java. The oil and gas firm is currently in the process of applying for a license to the government, prior to selling it commercially.

“In the future, it could be sold to the public in all regions, but maybe we will start in a limited area first,” Fadjar said.

By combining bioethanol, the company said it would acquire gasoline with a higher octane number than Pertamax.

Pertamina also did an experiment to combine Pertamax with methanol, another kind of alcohol, Fadjar said. “However, the product as a result is the one with a 5 percent bioethanol mixture,”

Prior to bioethanol, Pertamina has developed biodiesel, comprising a mixture of 35 percent fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), a derivative product from crude palm oil (CPO), with diesel fuel. The government has pushed the company to develop biodiesel with a higher mixture of FAME at 40 percent.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has pushed for biofuel research since November 2022, when he inaugurated a sugarcane-based bioethanol program in a factory that belongs to bioethanol producer PT Energi Agro Nusantara in East Java, and said he expected the bioethanol project would allow an increase to a 10 percent and 20 percent mixture in gasoline from currently just 5 percent.

The program is projected to increase national bioethanol production from 40,000 kiloliters last year to 1.2 million kiloliters in 2030.

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