The Green Bus in Oman
The 'Green Bus' runs on biodiesel made from date kernels. Image Credit: Mwasalat_om/Instagram

We’ve come across biodiesel fuel being made from vegetable oils, animal fats or even used cooking oils. However, scientists at Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University realised that date seeds could also be used to make biofuel. In a recent video posted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Dr Lamya Al Haj, an associate professor of molecular biology at the university, talks about the process.

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The video was released on May 7, on World Economic Forum’s Instagram account.

It all began in 2015 when Dr Al Haj and her team came up with this idea.

“In the Arab worlds, specifically in Oman, we have a lot of waste generated from dates because we’re huge consumers of dates. And at the time, the date seeds were used for coffee, as coffee beans. And we thought, can we actually utilise the oil content in the seeds to convert that into biodiesel, because it has about 9 to 15 per cent of oil in the seeds,” she says in the video.

“And that’s what sparked the idea in the very beginning,” she added. The process to convert the oil in the date kernels to biodiesel took the team seven years to perfect but Al Haj says the biggest hurdle was found outside the lab.

“The funds at the very beginning were very difficult to be granted because people were just investing in things that were trendy at the time. Now that the topic of renewable energy is a hotspot, we’re getting a lot more funds than earlier, which we’re very happy with,” she said.

First of its kind in the Middle East, the bus runs on biodiesel made from the oil extracted from date kernels, which are then turned into a biodiesel after it interacts with a chemical catalyst. Al Haj says this was a personal achievement for her because, “I wanted to drive home the point that research can go from the lab to the road.”

The process to convert the oil in the date kernels to biodiesel took the team seven years to perfect. Image Credit: @Mwasalat_om/Instagram

She believes it is a very strong message to send to the youth, students and society. Not only does this biodiesel power a bus, it also creates jobs for farmers.

“Instead of them throwing the seeds in the farming industry, now they’re going to actually be part of the solution for the collection,” she said.

Al Haj also notes there’s a long way to go and a lot more work to be done, to raise awareness and incentivise biofuel production. However, despite that she hopes to see biofuel for sale in every gas station in Oman one day.

The bus made its inaugural journey in December 2022.