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How Renewable Fuels Can Help Achieve Net Zero Carbon

Renewable fuels such as HVO fuel have so far been overlooked in the government’s plan to reduce harmful emissions to net zero. We look at the drawbacks of some of the current sustainable routes being explored and delve into the benefits of switching to clean-burning, low emission renewable fuels.

renewable fuels net zero

The UK government has pledged that by 2050, the amount of CO2 emitted by cars, industries and homes will be net zero – that means that for every tonne of CO2 produced, an equivalent amount must be extracted from the atmosphere.

Taking its green ambitions further, in 2020 the government vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 68% of what they were in 1990 by 2030, as part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement.

During the first month of lockdown, the UK saw a 34% reduction in carbon emissions which suggests that eradicating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is more possible than ever. But with lockdown gradually being lifted, accomplishing this goal on a commercial level while meeting increasing energy demand requires full backing from the government to help restore the cleaner air seen during lockdown.

What’s more, a recent survey carried out by YouGov has revealed that almost 25% of Brits are reluctant to change key behaviours to help tackle climate change. While there’s an increasing awareness of climate issues, it’s very much viewed as a problem for further afield, with 69% of those polled claiming they do not feel personally impacted by climate change.

So how does the UK plan to meet these ambitious targets?

On 18 November 2020, as part of the UK’s strive to becoming a world leader in reducing carbon emissions, the prime minister revealed its Energy White Paper which includes the government’s 10-point plan to fight climate change in anticipation of the UK holding the landmark COP26 climate conference. The strategy involves a “green revolution” which requires Britain to “look ahead to a more prosperous, greener future”.

Current policies include zero emission vehicles, ‘jet-zero aviation’ and reducing emissions from both new and existing buildings. However, the plan has been criticised for not being robust enough to ensure the UK meets its bold target and omits the key role alternative fuels such as HVO fuel will play in achieving net zero.

Zero emission vehicles

Fossil fuel vehicle ban

One route the government is taking to reduce emissions on the road is the ban of new petrol and diesel vehicle sales which has been brought forward by 10 years to 2030. To help ensure the UK achieves this target, it has offered a £2.8billion package of measures to support industry and consumers in making the transition to cleaner vehicles.

However, only 29% of those polled in the YouGov study said they would be prepared to never drive a petrol or diesel car again. Only 50% of respondents supported the ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles.

What’s more, with an estimated 308.3 million passenger vehicles in use across Europe, of which 99% are diesel or petrol and boast an average lifespan of 12 years, this move is far from a complete solution.

renewable fuels net zero

Electric vehicles

Recent government announcements have signposted a move to electric vehicles (EVs) with the Department for Transport’s Road to Zero paper focusing heavily on electrification as the most workable and recognised solution to reduce harmful emissions on our roads. However, they lack clear directive on how this is to be achieved which means air quality and climate change are being ineffectively challenged.

Whilst EVs certainly reduce emissions to zero at the tailpipe, a more detailed look at the reality has led to some doubt behind the drive of this move. The government’s plans don’t take into account the building of infrastructure and additional power generation capacity needed to increase the proliferation of charging points, which are no doubt powered by fossil diesel.

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, we cannot wait for fossil fuel vehicles to become extinct and for an increase in EVs to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are not the sole answer and switching to renewable fuels such as HVO offers an easier and immediate solution.

Renewable fuels

Until recently, the UK lacked a drop-in fuel that matched the performance attributes of diesel with green credentials. However, innovations in modern chemistry have identified a low-emission fossil fuel alternative that has superior operational performance over fossil diesel, with extensive benefits that support current infrastructure.

renewable fuels net zero

HVO fuel

Liquid paraffinic fuels such as Crown HVO fuel reduce emissions and improve local air quality immediately, without needing to invest in new machinery or retrofitting existing vehicles. These readily available alternative fuels are invaluable in reviving the UK’s net zero carbon journey, providing a technical and cost-effective stopgap while paying the way for longer-term developments.

HVO fuel has been synthesised to tackle the environmental and performance inadequacies of early generation biofuels and conventional fuels. This is due to its hydrogen-based production process instead of FAME biodiesel’s esterification production method. The final result is a completely different paraffinic diesel product with low aromatic and naphthenic hydrocarbon content and zero sulphur.

As a drop-in fuel, Crown HVO fuel can be deployed within existing fleets, equipment and machinery with no changes to infrastructure or capital expenditure, removing cost barriers and enabling a pragmatic step towards decarbonisation quickly and efficiently.

Although this cost-effective, practical solution appears to have been lost on the UK government, other European states such as Sweden recognise that climate and air quality improvement cannot rely on a “one size fits all” policy. They have instead adopted a multi-point strategy which includes the use of high content renewable fuels in addition to the development of the EV market.

EVs vs HVO fuel

When it comes to the question of using electric vehicles or renewable fuels, there are a few things to consider:

Electric VehiclesHVO Fuel
High capital expenditure for new machinery / retrofitting vehiclesDrop-in diesel alternative so no need to modify existing engines or machinery – can simply deploy in existing fleets, equipment and machinery
High-cost barriers – requires time and money to build charging points and wait for new infrastructureReadily available and can be used right away with no changes to engines or peripherals
High production emissions from less optimised EV production routes, battery production and relatively high greenhouse gas emissions from UK electricity productionReduces up to 90% of greenhouse gas CO2 emissions immediately

The facts

Data published by BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) proves that it will take the National Grid until 2041 to reduce grid emissions to this level and until at least 2050 to be 100% carbon neutral; all of which is predicated on significantly increasing renewable electricity generation and ultimately, nuclear power.

The “Accelerating Road Transport Decarbonisation” report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers also questions the government’s electrification strategy, specifically the effectiveness of EVs at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A key element of the report is the life cycle analysis comparison of traditional fuel technologies vs several “low emission” technologies, including renewable liquid fuels, LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas), PHEV (Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicle), BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) and FCEV (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle).

It concludes that current technology that runs on renewable liquid fuels outperform new electric technologies in all instances from a greenhouse gas emission perspective. This is due to several factors, including:

  • the high emissions from less optimised EV production routes
  • battery production and limited recycling capacity
  • the relatively high greenhouse gas emissions from UK electricity production

The UK government’s GHG factors for company reporting offer a carbon factor of 0.233 KgCO2e/kWh for electricity generation across the UK grid (inclusive of current renewable generation). When compared to diesel fuel, electricity does not offer significant savings, as diesel produces 0.245KgCO2/kWh.

Renewable fuels such as HVO fuel can produce carbon emission factors of 0.032KgCO2e/kWh which is a factor of 10 lower than either diesel or electricity.

While HVO fuel may not be a ‘silver bullet solution’, the use of bio-based waste raw materials paired with the transparency of the sustainability chain offer organisations a practical and measurable greenhouse gas carbon reduction without the use of early adoption technology which may prove more costly and less sustainable than anticipated.

‘Jet Zero’ Aviation

Another industry the government is looking at due to its substantially high level of harmful emissions is aviation. It’s coined the term ‘jet zero’ to illustrate the urgent steps it’s taking to encourage the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, through the investment in R&D to create zero emission aircraft and the development of the infrastructure at airports.

Currently, the only fuels that can sustain the levels of air traffic seen before the pandemic are from fossil fuel sources. While technologies exist that could slash the industry’s carbon footprint, they are developing too slowly; electric planes are an option but at least two decades away from coming into fruition.

Other possibilities include airlines flying slower to reduce the amount of CO2 released or to increase investment in carbon capture on the ground to offset the CO2 emitted in the air. However, both have their hindrances and are not immediate workable solutions and sustainable aviation fuels offer a long-term, viable solution.

Some airports are already using these fuels; however, uptake is too slow. The government says it’s investing £15 million into FlyZero and running a £15 million competition to support the manufacture of sustainable aviation fuels in the UK. This is understood to be consulted on in the aviation decarbonisation strategy in the following year.

renewable fuels net zero

Greener buildings

According to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Constructions, 28% of global CO2 emissions are derived from building operations. Moreover, in building materials and construction, this figure increases to 38%, making buildings the single largest cause of CO2 emissions.

Changes in individual and corporate behaviour during the pandemic such as an increase in remote working and less travel have been said to potentially boost efforts to tackle climate change. However, research indicates that the net impact of the Coronavirus on global warming will be insignificant unless a more assertive, far-reaching and continual approach is taken. This includes not just adjusting our behaviours but reconsidering and transforming the physical spaces where we live and work.

We don’t necessarily need to develop brand new structures, but to simply amend existing buildings. The government plans to transition the UK’s buildings to be more energy-efficient by moving away from fossil fuel boilers over the next 15 years. This includes the use of heat pumps and alternative fuels such as HVO. It will also provide 50,000 jobs and require individuals to replace their appliances to lower carbon, more efficient alternatives.

What is Crown Oil doing to contribute towards net zero?

As part of our efforts to reduce our offices and depots’ emissions and to promote a safe and sustainable workplace at Crown Oil, all electricity used by the Crown Group will be derived solely from renewable energy by the end of 2022.

We are proud to also run our entire delivery fleet on Crown HVO fuel to further showcase the fuel’s ability to performance faultless as a diesel alternative whilst significantly reducing our emissions. Any remaining emissions or any delivery made via a third party is carbon offset to help reduce any unavoidable emissions.

Crown Oil was one of the first UK fuel suppliers to start voluntarily offsetting our delivery mileage in December 2007 before making the switch to HVO fuel.

We’re dedicated to reducing our environmental impact with our range of alternative renewable fuels. To learn more about the cleaner, greener fuel alternatives available to your home or business, call our fuels experts on 0330 123 1444 today.

tonnes of net CO2 reduced across our transport fleet from using HVO

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