Diesel in Indonesia, lessons learnt so far.

It is very well known that diesel in Indonesia often contains bacteria and water largely due to poor transportation and storage and that there is a need for polishing the fuel on board your boat. We prepared our journey to Indonesia by installing a simple polishing system as explained in this movie.   It is however less well known that there are different types of diesel for sale in Indonesia and that they have different compositions.

 What is the word for diesel in Indonesian?

 According to Google Translate, the Indonesian for diesel is diesel, however you will rarely hear that word used. Indonesians tend to call diesel by its brand name Solar or Dexlite or Dex.

What is the difference between Solar, Dexlite and Dex?

Diesel with Cetane Number 48 is limited to 2,500 ppm sulfur is available nationwide; it is subsidized by the state and called Solar. We were told by an agent that it is illegal for cruisers to buy this diesel.

Diesel with Cetane Number 51 has been limited to 500 ppm sulfur since 2006. It is called Dexlite.

Dex or Pertamina Dex has a CN of 53.

What is a Cetane Number (CN)?

 The way that the composition of diesel is specified is by using a standard measurement, which is called the Cetane Number (CN).

A Cetane Number is determined in a lab by comparing the tested diesel with two reference mixtures with known Cetane Numbers. All diesel fuels with or without additives can be tested and the minimum specification for Australia and Europe is 51.

It is much lower in the US varying from 42 to 45. The CN is also generally lower in cold countries in winter. For example the arctic diesel is at 47-49 in Europe. This is achieved through the addition of Kerosene.

Generally, diesel engines operate well with a CN from 48 to 51. Fuels with lower CN have longer ignition delays, requiring more time for the fuel combustion process to be completed. Hence, higher speed diesel engines operate more effectively with higher CN fuels.

Why is the sulfur content of diesel important?

The nationwide diesel sulfur limit in Indonesia tightens to 500 ppm in 2021 and 50 ppm in 2025. Every country has different targets in terms of reducing the sulfur content of diesel.

The move to lower sulfur emissions allows for the reduction of harmful emissions from diesel combustion. The exhaust output of ozone is substantially reduced and in conjunction with emission control devices be brought to near-zero.

Where can I buy Dex?

 Both Solar and Dexlite and Dex are available at Pertamina stations. Pertamina stations are the only ones available throughout Indonesia and are state owned. In reality smaller islands will only have Solar.

In certain areas you will find Shell and Total stations. These have only the CN48 type fuel. Petronas stations have CN51 fuel.

Do fuel additives change the Cetane Number?

 Fuel additives change the Cetane Number but do not change the Cetane Index. The Cetane Index of diesel is a theoretical calculation based on the density and distillation of crude diesel fuel.

The minimum Cetane Index for diesel fuel in Europe is 46. In some countries like New Caledonia, the Cetane Number of diesel is elevated by additives which can become a problem in Yanmar engines on boats as any bacteria and water is converted to sludge which blocks up the filters.

One of the ways Indonesia meets its emission targets is through the use of biofuel. Biofuel is a mixture of diesel and palm oil derivatives. Palm oil is responsible for the destruction of rainforests in Borneo where since 2000 an area the size of Maine or Belgium has been cleared of rainforest to grow oil palm. So although lower emissions benefit the planet, the reduction of rainforest is responsible for an increase of up to 20% in CO2 emissions.

Today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems.


  1. Very interesting and well documented, as usual… Just one word about sulfur content: when Total and BP introduced ultra low sulfur diesels in Europe, there was a massive communication about lower emissions and improved efficiency = lower consumptions. What was not anticipated was the number of engine failures that followed, because the sulfur is in fact a lubricant for all mobile parts in the injection system. So they had to add specific lubricants. Sulfur was bad for the environment, but good for the engines ! (A good presentation here: https://www.marship.eu/loss-of-lubricity-in-diesel-fuel) .


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