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The Role of Advanced Fuels in The Road to Net Zero

Shawn Coles, Founder | Net Zero Week

7 min read Partner content

The targets set in the UK to reduce carbon emissions are ambitious and consequently challenging. We are in a race to produce solutions and technologies that will help us meet these targets, and truly eradicate our old polluting ways. For this to happen, the next generation of technology needs to match or exceed the performance of existing solutions: they need to be economically viable, reliable, and deliverable at scale.

There must be an honest assessment of the true carbon impact of the new replacement technologies. It is vital that we factor in the challenges and costs of their introduction into business and society, and their long-term effects. The possible environmental damage of extensive mining of rare earths for batteries, and the technical hurdles involved in creating renewable hydrogen, for example, cannot be underestimated.

As an example take the replacement of the diesel engine, and the challenges faced by just one sector which relies heavily on this technology.  

In the transport sector, and in particular in the movement of goods, there are approximately 500,000 UK registered diesel HGVs on the road today – a number that is likely to increase or remain steady for the next 5-10 years. In 2018 , 43,000, new diesel-running HGVs were sold, in 2019 the number rose to 48,000, in 2020 33,000 and in 2021 it is expected that more than 40,000 HGVs will be sold. HGVs are a key element of our economy; taking them off the roads without a truly viable alternative solution would be not only costly but potentially highly damaging to our economy.

According to the RHA (Road Haulage Association) HGVs have an average life of seven years and cover up to 500,000 miles in their lifetime and using 50,000 litres of diesel fuel every year. They also haul 20-30 tonnes per vehicle in all weathers, any time of day or night, every day of the year.  They are the backbone of Britain’s road logistics sector.

The challenge for any new technology looking to replace HGVs will be two-fold.  The bar for emissions and GHG reduction is higher than ever, while the performance of current HGV’s has evolved to a level which is demanding to match, let alone exceed.

So, how can advanced fuels play a critical role in the road to net zero?

William Tebbit, CEO, Green Biofuels, said:

“The simple answer is that the technology to fully replace the diesel engine doesn’t exist yet. Until it does advanced fuels can significantly improve air quality and reduce GHG in an existing technology without the need for any engine modification or change.

To be a real solution, the whole problem must be solved. EV trucks are improving in performance but battery technology still doesn’t perform as well as diesel engines. EVs just can’t carry as much, for as long. Hydrogen shows promise, but the infrastructure to store it, distribute it and sustainably produce it at competitive cost is not in place.”

We are still firmly in a transitional phase, where the economy relies heavily on existing solutions and new technologies don’t provide a truly viable alternative.

Advanced fuels are the transition technology that allows existing technologies (the 500,000 HGV UK fleet) to still operate effectively while improving local air quality and reducing GHG by up to 90% over regular diesel. This also applies to the so called Non Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) which relies on diesel and is key across the construction and building sectors.

There really is no sensible reason why advanced fuels shouldn’t be fully backed as a simple and effective way to make a positive impact here and now. While regular fossil diesel will be phased out, existing technologies can still be significantly improved during this transition phase.

There are very few technologies that can achieve this with such an immediate impact and lack of disruption to businesses and logistics.

An advanced Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) fuel, like GreenD+, which is a renewable drop-in fuel that can be used in any diesel engine achieves the following:

  • Utilises existing diesel powered vehicles, plant, machinery and marine vessels without any need for capital expenditure or changes to the engine
  • Immediately improves local air quality by reducing emissions such as NOx by up to 29% and particulate matter by up to 85%
  • Reduces CO2e (GHG) by 90% (HMG default values published this year)
  • Utilises existing infrastructure to deliver fuel without any interruption to supply
  • Is fully warranted by all OEM Truck manufacturers; two of those manufacturers run their demo fleets on HVO

Businesses throughout the UK are already delivering these benefits to local air quality, by taking positive action to make a difference today and not wait for tomorrow’s technology.

William Tebbit, CEO, Green Biofuels, said:

“Clients running GreenD+ HVO include national fleets of delivery vehicles, including HOVIS; logistics providers that run fleets for leading brands across food, fashion, drinks and the components sectors; broadcasting groups including Sky Sports, and marine operators such as GPS Marine which deliver key products on the Thames also use GreenD+ HVO to power their logistics operations.”

One of the largest adopters of advanced fuels has been the construction industry which operates large plant and equipment. Construction sites across the UK including major rail infrastructure, road, the Thames Tideway Super Sewer (which is the second largest construction project in UK after HS2) and house builders are using HVO in their operations. Advanced fuels are fully proven in day-to-day operations across multiple sectors throughout the UK.

A cross party group of 15 MPs who represent 75% of the HS2 (Phase 1) route have already written to the Government on this issue. They are asking that HS2 contractors are now obliged and encouraged to replace fossil diesel with advanced drop-in replacement fuels such as GreenD+ HVO to reduce GHG emissions and boost local air quality across this vast construction project.  This has included former DEFRA, BEIS ministers and Transport secretaries of state as well as concerned MPs impacted by HS2. This would represent an estimated 150 million litres of regular fossil diesel a year being replaced. 

William Tebbit, CEO, Green Biofuels, said:

“If this was done then HS2 Ltd would reduce its CO2e by 423,000 metric tonnes a year – achieved from a fuel switch which can happen without the need for any diesel engine to be changed or modified.”

The rate of adoption of advanced fuels is growing, and unsurprisingly our business has grown significantly since 2017 as private businesses have acted to improve air quality and reduce GHG ahead of regulation.

What surprises me, however, is that the same duty rates apply to a renewable, low carbon and low emission fuel, as do for regular fossil diesel. A reduction of duty is not I believe the most appropriate action, but rather a reward for operators who take on the additional cost of between 8 and 10% for doing the right thing and helping to improve local air quality and contribute to the UK’s net GHG reduction, could be introduced. It would be an affirmative and logical action to enable operators to submit a return on a quarterly basis showing the amount of advanced fuel used (since all the required reporting and monitoring systems are already in place) in order to reclaim a portion of the duty paid, or offset it against other tax revenues due.   

Advanced fuels are widely available across the UK from a number of suppliers. Their adoption is increasing and the improvements in local air quality and GHG reduction are multiplying. The more widely they are recognised and supported as a transition technology, the sooner they help us along on the Road to Net Zero.


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