The crew before leaving for Kota Kinabalu.
Difficult drive on the last leg.
The flagging off ceremony at Belaga.
On the last leg to Kundasang.
The view from the last rendezvous point.
The Iban community welcoming the convoy.
Dr Harrison Lau of MPOB giving a briefing on B10.

THE heartbeat of Malaysia’s transportation and industrial sector is the venerable diesel engine, powering many trucks, buses and heavy machinery as well as the ubiquitous four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles.

The lifeblood of the diesel engine is, of course, diesel fuel, which is sold in Malaysia as Euro 2 and Euro 5.

Not many know that the Euro 2 is a biodiesel blend called B7 Diesel while Euro 5 is pure diesel. On the horizon is a government mandate for a migration to a higher percentage blend called B10 Diesel. Put simply, the B10 is a 10 per cent blend of palm methyl ester and normal diesel fossil fuel.

This oft-delayed National Biodiesel Mandate for B10 Diesel is imminent and in anticipation of its implementation, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry, in collaboration with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), organised a gruelling 1,000km test for the new blend.

Billed as the B10Diesel Trans-Borneo Expedition, various members of the media were invited to test for themselves the efficiency of the new B10 blend. A total of 15 4WD vehicles of various ages and different makes made the long drive from Bintulu in Sarawak to Kundasang in Sabah.

The expedition was formally flagged off by Deputy Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Datu Nasrun Datu Mansur from the Belaga MPOB Station on March 2.

DAY 1
Thursday, March 2
Bintulu-Belaga-Miri

All the vehicles, previously running a B7 blend, were filled up with the new B10 Diesel in Bintulu and assembled for the drive up to the flag-off in Belaga. We headed to Miri, our first overnight stop. It was rainy and overcast, with the roads made rough by previous inclement weather, made the going slow and we arrived in Miri as the sun bid its farewell. None of the vehicles had problems but it was difficult to assess the fuel’s performance due to the weather and fairly sedate pace.

DAY 2
Friday, March 3
Miri-Lawas

The morning of the second day saw all the vehicles refuelled. Today would see the convoy passing through Brunei (twice!) and also see more challenging roads and expressways. As we were parked in the underground parking of our hotel with many of our vehicles idling away, it was observed that there was no choking smog or smoke emanating from them. In addition, the overall consensus of the drivers was that the early morning start-up revealed that the engines emitted none of the usual rattling sounds, even from a nearly eight-year-old Toyota Fortuner (my ride).

This second day, saw us passing through four immigration/Customs checkpoints — Sungai Tujuh to Kuala Lurah/Tedungan, Pandaruan and Mengkalap. The Brunei leg saw us on the Tutong-Telisai Highway, which allowed speeds of up to 100kph at times. Acceleration and steady-state cruising saw no problems from any of the convoy’s vehicles. Reaching Lawas quite early was a relief as the border crossings took a lot of time.

(Due to us carrying fuel INTO Brunei, clarification was needed).

We were advised to empty all the containers before exiting Brunei as it may be construed as fuel smuggling.

DAY 3
Saturday, March 4
Lawas-Kundasang

After an early morning photo-op with the Lawas Buffalo, we made our way to the Sabah coastal town of Sipitang to rendezvous with two Sarawak Palm Oil tankers, which would escort us part of the way to Kundasang. Again, the early morning start-up revealed no nasty rattles and only a little bit of smoke from the exhaust (which dissipated quickly).

Manual refuelling was the order each day (B10 is not available from stations yet) and so took a little extra time.

We drove on Malaysia’s longest straight stretch of road (according to my guide) in Keningau. However, being a normal trunk road, it was not the speed-fest you would imagine. Plenty of slower vehicles and kampung along the route to Tambunan saw us driving at moderate speeds, at best.

However, the run-up to Ranau and Kundasang would see the convoy running up the Crocker Range. A twisting, steep and challenging road (with a few roadworks, too) saw the convoy split up as we drove in differing speeds. Overtaking swiftly was the key, and the convoy’s walkie-talkies proved to be a godsend.

On this route, it was revealed that the B10 blend lost nothing to normal fossil diesel fuel in terms of power and, in fact, had very little smoke emission under hard acceleration, even uphill. Some drivers claimed a smoother acceleration and more power. However, my ride was not noticeably more powerful, although it would take a back-to-back test with 100 per cent fossil fuel to certify this.

MPOB chief researcher Dr Harrison Lau claimed that the B10 Diesel was cleaner and would also clear up old deposits, and it appeared his claims were borne out on this leg. None of the expeditions’ vehicles were emitting any smoke as we arrived in Kundasang after a hard drive.

DAY 4
Sunday, March 5
Kundasang-Kota Kinabalu

We awoke early to witness a cold-start demonstration by Dr Lau. Night-time temperatures were as low as 13 degrees Celsius and the three vehicles (two Toyotas and one Mitsubishi) that were lined up for the test were stone-cold. Each started up without a problem and showed that even cold temperatures and high altitudes were not a problem for the B10 Diesel blend.

A leisurely drive up to Kota Kinabalu and the flight back home ensued.

It is worth noting that the B10 has actually been tested before in a similar fashion as well as laboratory tested repeatedly by MPOB.

It is hoped that the B10 Diesel will be introduced soon as the benefits are manifold, both for the palm oil industry and also the environment. Find out more about the B10 Diesel in our next instalment of Cars, Bikes and Trucks.

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