HVO – a renewable low carbon fuel

OFTEC reports on the current HVO field trial and explains the potential of this fuel in heating

HVO fuel trial update
Last issue we reported that field trials had commenced using Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as a replacement for kerosene. The total number of sites up and running has grown steadily to 18 and covers a range of equipment types including:
• Condensing and non-condensing boilers with varying burner types and flueing configurations
• A pressure jet cooker
• A pressure jet cooker with integral boiler
• A vaporising cooker where the sleeve burner has been replaced with a pot burner conversion.

So far, the performance has been uniformly excellent with no significant problems reported. Even at this early stage, the results suggest HVO will work with virtually any existing oil heating or cooking appliance, once some simple modifications have been made.

The field trial sites are located right across the UK. Some have been funded by OFTEC while others are privately sponsored installations, with some set up by local fuel distributors. All the sites are being regularly monitored and the results evaluated by a central oversight team. The information gleaned from the trials will be used to establish any areas of concern, whether any product modifications are required, what installation and servicing guidance is necessary and, more broadly, to convince government that HVO is a reliable product, worthy of support.

However, the current trial is only the first stage. OFTEC and UKIFDA have made a joint application under Phase 8a of the Energy Entrepreneurs Fund, for 60% grant funding towards a major project which will see 100 homes converted to HVO in time for the 2021/22 winter heating season. The plan will expand considerably on the current trial, and twenty homes in five different locations will be converted and fueled to capture a fully representative spread of climatic conditions, building types and installed equipment.

The application is currently being evaluated and feedback on submissions is expected in mid-May. Successful bids will be awarded funding to commence projects from 1st July.

What exactly is HVO and why is it so important to the future of liquid fuel heating?
HVO is a renewable liquid fuel made from certified waste fats and oils and manufactured by a synthesised process with hydrogen. Up to now it has been used mainly as a transport fuel but that is beginning to change. Because HVO is paraffinic, it behaves the same as kerosene and does not suffer from the storage problems associated with some other biofuels, making it ideal for use as a heating fuel. The ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification) confirms HVO is a sustainable fuel that is made from waste products or crops and doesn’t contribute to deforestation.

Switching to 100% HVO brings an immediate reduction in carbon emissions of almost 90%, compared to kerosene. Because the conversion process is cheap and easy, it has the potential to offer a cheaper and easier way for existing oil heating customers to reduce carbon emissions than switching to a completely different heating system.

When will the new fuel be available?
We hope to introduce the new fuel in 2022, subject to the completion of successful trials and obtaining government approval to use HVO as a heating fuel. Our aim is to then enable existing oil heating users to convert to the new fuel gradually during the 2020s and 2030s.

What hurdles need to be overcome to enable this to happen?
The Government still needs to be convinced that it is right to use HVO for heating. HVO was originally developed as a transport fuel and its main concern is that there may not be enough available. However, manufacturing capacity is increasing rapidly – it is forecast to rise by over 300% in Europe alone between 2020 and 2025 – and we are confident that if government signaled its support, further investment in production would be made, including in the UK where no HVO is currently produced.

At present, HVO is more expensive than heating oil in the UK, so we are discussing with government how changes to duty, tax and renewable incentives could be used to make the fuel attractive to households. We anticipate that a scheme similar to the one used for green road transport fuels could be used so that HVO could be offered at an affordable price. However, even if HVO is more expensive, it is still likely to be cheaper than switching to a completely different heating system.

We are confident that HVO is a low carbon solution that households will be keen to accept. However, overcoming these hurdles won’t guarantee success. HVO is no different to any other new product, we still need to tell potential customers it’s coming and convince them this is the right choice for their home. In the next article, we report on the project to do just that – and explain what you can do to help.