Middle Eastern oil and natural gas powerhouse Iran is making renewed efforts to utilize green technology and diversify its energy base. The office of Iran’s Vice Presidency for Science and Technology has announced that, as soon as this year, the country will start using biofuels. If they follow through, this marks the first time in Iranian history that such a plan will actually be executed.
According to the Vice Presidency’s Biofuels Committee head, Meisam Tabatabaei, the initiative will initially be launched at pilot scale. It will involve the blending of bioethanol and biodiesel with conventional gasoline in buses, minibuses and select cars in Iran’s free trade zones. The preliminary aim is said to be to evaluate the project’s feasibility. However, the ultimate objective is to prepare the ground for the full and nationwide implementation of measures to start using biofuels in the near future.
“Unlike fossil fuels, biofuels have very low CO2 emissions and release no toxins in the air. More important, they are biodegradable and renewable, while fossil fuel resources are limited and will eventually run out,” Tabatabaei said. “Many Iranian cities are suffering from serious air pollution, so by introducing biofuels we can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move toward a healthier, more eco-friendly future.”
To date, the production of bioethanol and biodiesel in Iran has been at the academic research level, although the country has great potential for bioenergy. Iran’s diverse terrain and climate is suitable for the cultivation of various energy crops that have the potential to produce 721 million liters (190.5 million gallons) of biodiesel annually. While having the capacity, Iran would never divert its precious farmland for fuel production.
The estimated 18 million tons of agricultural waste that is produced in the country on an annual basis is the more practical alternative. Iran can obtain nearly 5 billion liters (1.3 billion gallons) of bioethanol from its crop residues and sugarcane bagasse. Waste cooking oil is another option. Every year, about 1.5 million tons of cooking vegetable oil or animal fat is consumed in Iran. About 30% of this is considered as waste and can be used to produce liquid biofuels. The GEF Small Grants Programme implemented by the United Nation’s Development Program has been sponsoring projects aimed at promoting the use of waste oil for the production of biodiesel in Iran since 2012. Also, forests, which cover about 7% of the country’s area, could be an abundant source for biofuel products.
However, Iran’s No. 1 and long-term bioenergy feedstock is none other than microalgae. With the Caspian Sea in the north and the Persian Gulf in the south, Iran has a natural advantage for algae cultivation. Its numerous salt lakes, such as Maharlu Lake in Fars province, Lake Orumieh in the West Azerbaijan province and the Qom salt lake in Qom province are also ideal breeding grounds for new species of algae.