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Renewable Fuel or Electric Vehicles? Which is Better for the Environment?

As pressure to act on climate change mounts up, the eradication of fossil fuels is at the top of the list. As a result, many businesses are struggling with the potential costs of upgrading to electric vehicles. For most applications, businesses have two choices: upgrade to electric or switch to a direct renewable alternative fuel such as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), bioethanol and hydrogen fuel cells.

To help businesses with their decision, we’ve taken a look at which option is the best in the long-run.

Crown Oil EV vs Fuels

Petroleum alternatives are rising in popularity

Electric vehicles (EVs) are the main route being explored in the government’s Road Map to Net Zero. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), electric vehicles and alternatively fuelled vehicles made up 13% of cars registered in the UK. This is almost a double increase compared to 7% the year before, showing that Britons are becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and eager to make a positive change.

With lower CO2 emissions offered by battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and mild hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV) respectively, the UK’s air quality can breathe a sigh of relief, despite the SMMT says average new car CO2 emissions rose in 2018, up 2.9% to 124.5g/km due to consumer demand turning from diesel cars toward petrol-powered cars and petrol-powered hybrids.

However, although the decarbonisation of electricity is developing and EVs offer a vast reduction in life cycle emissions, there are some substantial issues that complicate matters. Firstly, the government’s main aim involves tackling emissions at the point of use. But the entire lifespan of a vehicle produces greenhouse gases, from the production to the eventual disposal.

While battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and mild hybrid electric vehicles off lower emissions, it’s important to also note that fossil fuels will no doubt be used to lay the cables and build the charging points. So are electric vehicles really a cleaner route than renewable fuels?

Furthermore, there are an estimated 308.3 million passenger vehicles in use across Europe with an average lifespan of 12 years, and 99% of those are diesel/petrol. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, there simply isn’t enough time to wait for an increase in share of EVs to make a significant reduction in emissions. Although certainly a contribution towards tackling air pollution, the adoption of electric vehicles is not the sole answer; and renewable, paraffinic fuels offer a much easier and immediate solution.

Petroleum alternatives are now more popular than ever – here at Crown Oil, in just the last year we’ve seen a three-fold increase in interest in renewable diesel (HVO fuel), something that’s certainly been observed by the wider industry too.

A new report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), Accelerating Road Transport: Decarbonisation looked at how battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) compared with five other fuel sources, including petrol and diesel using well-to-wheel, well-to-tank and tank-to-wheel life cycle analysis (LCA) models. This is also known as a cradle-to-grave analysis of the fuel.

CO2 emission comparison: EV vs HVO fuel

Another way of assessing the carbon emissions of an EV compared to a vehicle running on a renewable or petroleum-based fuel is to use
the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) CO2 emission conversion factors.

These conversion coefficients are available to businesses looking to calculate their carbon emissions and for this reason, are split into three scopes: Scope 1 (fuel combustion), Scope 2 (purchased electricity) and Scope 3 (indirect). 

The caveat of calculating carbon emissions is to calculate indirect carbon emissions of the electricity grid powering your vehicle (Scope 2) with the direct emissions of a fuel-powered vehicle (Scope 1).

While an EV driver may believe that since their car is not emitting any CO2 when driving, this doesn’t take into account the CO2 that’s emitted when building the infrastructure and when charging the car using the UK’s electricity grid, which is made up of power from a mixture of primarily gas, some coal, nuclear and renewable energy too.

In reality, when considering the CO2 emissions released from the electricity grid to charge the EV battery, an all-battery EV emits 51 grammes of CO2 per mile travelled – this is of course better than a fossil diesel car, but still notable. By contrast, a similar car running on HVO emits just 3.6 grammes of CO2 per mile.

To calculate this we multiply the fuel tank size (millilitres) or the battery capacity (Wh) by the relevant BEIS conversion factor and divide the result by the total range achievable by that battery or fuel tank. The result is:

ParameterForecourt diesel (B7)EVHVO
Grammes of CO2 per mile251.751.43.6

It’s important to bear in mind that relative to internal combustion engine vehicles, electric cars are still quite inefficient in terms of mileage. We’re assuming an EV is able to drive 310-miles on a fully charged battery (75kWh), while diesel-fuelled cars can on average achieve 600-miles from a 60-litre fuel tank.

For an EV to have similar CO2 emissions to HVO fuel, that electric car would need to drive about 4,500-miles on a 75kWh battery. That means needing enough power in a single charge to get from Dundee, Scotland to Moscow, Russia and back.

Another way of looking at it, is that the EV would need to be charged by an electricity grid that is reliant enough on zero-carbon renewable energy to provide 14-times lower carbon emissions per mile travelled by the electric car – but that car would still have a range disadvantage of roughly half.

CO2 emissions of a battery EV vs renewable fuel

The table below shows the CO2 emissions for a medium-sized car that travels a range of distances in a year, and how the fuel type impacts the environment. When you take into account the electricity grid that’s charging your car, EVs are better than diesel-powered vehicles, but using renewable fuel like HVO fuel is even better for the carbon cycle.

Annual MilesEmissions – EV (kgCO2e)Emissions – HVO (kgCO2e)

Calculation based on a 75kWh capacity EV capable of 310-mi range versus a 60-litre diesel-engine car with a 600-mi range running on HVO fuel.

Well-to-wheels CO2 analysis – battery power versus renewable fuels

Well-to-wheels analysis is important when comparing CO2 emissions of different fuel types as it takes into account the emissions from the whole lifecycle of the fuel and vehicle using it. This includes the production of the vehicle (which is higher for BEVs due to the production of their larger batteries) and involves two parts the well-to-tank number and the tank-to-wheel number.

The well-to-tank figure is the number of greenhouse gases released from taking the fuel out of the ground to putting it in a vehicle’s tank.

The final part of the LCA is the tank-to-wheel number, which considers the CO2 in the subsequent use of the fuel through combustion in the engine to make the vehicle’s wheels move.

According to IMechE, vehicles powered by 100% renewable diesel have lower well-to-wheel CO2 emissions than those of electric vehicles.

According to their research, the production of fully battery-powered vehicles contributes around 57 grams per square kilometre (g/km2) of CO2 when charged with only green electricity. However, when charged with electricity obtained from a mix of electricity sources in the EU, that rises to 117 g/km2 of CO2. Compared with CO2 emissions for internal combustion engine vehicles, it’s much better than the 140g/km2 for conventional diesel and 171g/km2 for conventional petrol.

Meanwhile, IMechE estimates the carbon cost associated with well to wheel lifecycle of 100 percent renewable fuels is far lower: around 45g/km2 for renewable petrol and 46g/km2 for renewable diesel.

Tank-to-wheel emissions – battery power versus renewable fuel

In terms of tank-to-wheel emissions, battery-powered EVs emit zero greenhouse gases when running. Their carbon footprint comes from the charging of the battery.

But when you switch to 100% renewable fuel (HVO), you can also disregard tank-to-wheel as the CO2 released in combustion is reclaimed by the feedstock that provided it as the raw material of the fuel.

As a result, 100% renewable petrol (such as bioethanol) cars have CO2 emissions of 45 g/km2, while 100% renewable diesel has CO2 emissions of 46 g/km2, significantly lower than what BEV can currently attain.

The data also discussed how emissions could look in ten years’ time, allowing for improvements in CO2 emissions that we expect to see in time, and even in the long-term, IMechE expects renewable fuels to offer lower lifecycle emissions than battery EVs.

Fuel typeCurrent total CO2 emissions (g/km2)Estimated total CO2 emissions, 2030 (g/km2)
100% Renewable diesel4646
BEV (green energy)5858
Data: Institute of Mechanical Engineers

Does that mean don’t buy battery-electric vehicles?

Nonsense – battery-electric cars are still far cleaner than their petrol and diesel counterparts and are easy for consumers to buy! As such, they play a very big role in improving local air quality by eliminating emissions such as particulate matter and NOx.

Unfortunately, 100 percent renewable fuel blends are not available at fuel stations in the UK, so they are only an option if you order your fleet’s fuel in bulk. If you use a fuel supplier for on-site delivery, then you can start thinking about the fuel that has the best long-term environmental impact.

Furthermore, when it comes to heavy vehicles, like trucks, electric power is currently not a viable option due to the large distances they travel and the heavy loads they need to carry. In this case, the easiest option is to ensure they use clean, renewable fuels as an alternative to petroleum-based diesel.

All the research points out is the easiest route is to help make HVO easier to access and to improve the engines that run on these fuels, including the production of these engines.

Best uses of HVO renewable diesel

HVO is a ready-made solution for a wide range of applications, such as rail, inland waterways, generators, construction equipment and heavy-duty fleets, cutting up to 90% of net CO2 immediately, as well as providing huge reductions in noxious emissions and particulate matter. EVs are still being developed for high-load and long-range vehicles, hampering its application in haulage, construction civil engineering and agricultural applications.

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

Crown HVO fuel is approved under the Renewable Fuels Assurance Scheme (RFAS)

Crown HVO is approved under the Renewable Fuels Assurance Scheme (RFAS). Designed by Zemo Partnership, this verifies our claims regarding HVO’s GHG emission savings and provenance of raw material feedstocks.

The RFAS works in conjunction with the Government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RFTO) and delivers a framework to guarantee that HVO is a truly sustainable low carbon fuel. It requires accurate representative information for company carbon reporting and includes the complete renewable fuel supply chain from feedstock cultivation or waste raw material collection, production and distribution of the final product to our customers.

Interested in the most environmentally-friendly fuel that can power your vehicle? Enquire about HVO fuel by calling 0330 123 1444 today.

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

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