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Solving problems for a clean, local source of energy

Date:19 June 2017
Author:Dirk Pieter van Donk
Dirk Pieter van Donk is a Professor in Operations Management at the University of Groningen.
Dirk Pieter van Donk is a Professor in Operations Management at the University of Groningen.

Bio-diesel promises to be a clean option to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. However, it is still costly. Often, oil suited for consumption is used for it, putting pressure on food supply. With a rising world population, the idea of using food as a source of energy is not sustainable.

In our project in Indonesia, conducted in cooperation with colleagues from Chemical Engineering, we searched for inputs for bio-diesel that would not come at the expense of food, and would be produced locally, in remote areas, where normal diesel is ill-supplied and at fluctuating prices.

Rubber seeds in Kalimantan in Indonesia are currently seen as waste, but can be a great input for bio-diesel. Usually in processing natural materials, the raw material is taken to a central large refinery to be processed. However, we decided to investigate something new. What would happen if a mobile bio-diesel processor were available?

Investigating the benefits of such a processor and the conditions for its operation is relatively new, particularly in this specific context. The main open research questions it concerns lie within the domain of Operations Management. For example: is a viable business model achievable? (How) Can we cope with all operational constraints regarding distances, availability and decay of the inputs?

We developed a model to optimally plan/schedule the mobile refinery’s visits to the villages in order to find the optimal routing, time of travel, and the best way of collecting the rubber seeds. The final aim is to show that within certain conditions a realistic case can be made for the mobile processor. The fieldwork done to make assumptions realistic helps a lot here.

Our research has proven the options for a mobile refinery for farmers in remote areas to reap the benefits of bio-diesel: contributing to a sustainable planet through affordable renewable sources of energy, without coming at the expense of food production. 

Dirk Pieter van Donk is a Professor in Operations Management at the University of Groningen. For further reading, please see his profile page and the following research papers:

ten Kate, J., Teunter, R., Kusumastuti, R. D., & van Donk, D. P. (2017). Bio-diesel production using mobile processing units: a case in IndonesiaAgricultural Systems, 152, 121-130. DOI: 10.1016/j.agsy.2016.12.015

Bot, P., van Donk, D.P., Pennink, B., & Simatupang, T. M. (2015). Uncertainties in the bidirectional biodiesel supply chain. Journal of Cleaner Production, 95, 174-183. DOI: 10.1016/j.clepro.2015.02.064