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Alternative fuels series: sustainably produced fuels

25 March 2021 #Features & Interviews #TNB News

In the final chapter of our month-long focus on fossil fuel alternatives, we consider high blend renewable fuels (HBRFs). We have already covered biomethane in a previous week, but we will look at biodiesel and, as previously promised, further explain how hydrogen can be produced without drawing on the earth’s finite resources through a conversion technology known as power-to-X (P2X).

According to a report produced by Zemo Partnership that examines the potential impact of HBRFs, in order to meet a 2050 net zero ambition, by 2030 the UK needs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 68% compared to 1990 levels. Greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 are estimated to be 43.8% lower than they were in 1990. Government statistics say that road transport is responsible for 24% of UK GHGs, with heavy goods vehicles accountable for 20% of these. Furthermore, by way of incentive, says the report, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) has set the UK a road transport renewable fuels target of 12.4% by volume by 2032.

HBRFs can provide short- to mid-term benefits for the UK CV industry as it transitions to the zero tailpipe emissions-enabling technologies that we have addressed throughout the month. The technology is already in place to operate fuels such as biodiesel – which can be created from a wide range of waste products, including grease and free fatty acid (FFA) materials – as a drop-in diesel replacement, and the infrastructure exists to make refuelling a simple process. There are also a number of companies producing sustainable fuels in the UK.

“If everyone in the UK entrusted us with their food waste and cooking oil, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 3.5 million cars from the roads or creating a forest the size of Scotland,” said Olleco CEO, Robert Behan, whose energy company operates a cooking oil recovery team that gathers used cooking oil to be converted into biodiesel that the company claims can reduce traffic carbon emissions by up to 86%. It also operates a food waste recovery team that diverts food waste from landfill, reducing the methane gases that Olleco states are 36 times more potent than CO2. Employing over 1000 people, at 19 sites in the UK and Ireland, Olleco services more than 50,000 catering establishments “In a climate of fear and concern about global warming, it is important to deliver reassurance that something that can be done to solve the problems we face.”

Olleco states that its biodiesel meets the strict EN14214EU specification, which makes it suitable for forecourt distribution and 100% use for commercial vehicle fleets. It also offers a service that collects used oil and returns the resulting biodiesel, effectively creating a sustainable closed-loop.

Greenergy is another British company that is championing the potential of waste to energy projects. The renewable energy company creates biofuel for oil companies, independent forecourts, supermarkets and large fleet operators, including logistics companies and bus operators, in markets across the UK, Ireland, Canada and Brazil. The company recently announced a plan to develop biofuels from waste tyre stock. The project will utilise pyrolysis and hydrotreating technologies from a site at, subject to planning approval, Thames Enterprise Park.

Christian Flach, Greenergy CEO, explains that the project will process 300 tonnes of shredded tyres a day and the manufacturing process will result in the creation of ‘carbon black’ as a by-product, which can be used to produce new tyres or alternative industrial rubbers. “We have been exploring innovative ways to produce liquid fuels from different waste products to continue to create new forms of development fuels and deliver further carbon savings in the years ahead,” he said.

According to government figures, in the UK there are still 499,000 rigid and articulated trucks consuming around 8 billion litres of diesel a year. The Zemo Partnership report states that around 50% of this fleet are Euro VI compliant with 28% meeting Euro V requirements. It says that the RHA forecasts that 80% of the UK truck fleet will be Euro VI by 2025. Clearly, while biodiesel is able to significantly reduce GHG emissions as part of the UK’s decarbonisation – by 46 million tonnes over the next decade, according to the report – a step-change moment is required to transition to net zero.

“We’re now on a trajectory for net zero emissions transport by 2050, but our impact on the climate is what matters and action in this area can accelerate GHG emissions cuts over the next 30 years,” explained Gloria Esposito, Zemo Partnership’s head of sustainability. “If we can decarbonise the fuels we’ll be using until we can achieve full electrification across the vehicle fleet, we can minimise the impact of emissions from road transport on our way to zero.”


As we touched on during TNB’s look at hydrogen, Siemens Energy believes there is a solution to the challenge of drawing fuels from renewable sources in the form of power-to-X conversion technologies. P2X refers to the harnessing of surplus electrical energy and conversion to gaseous or liquid chemicals. For example, electrolysis can be used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen with zero CO2 emissions; the hydrogen is then captured and stored in cylinders until a reconversion technology – such as a fuel cell – is utilised to turn the gas back into electricity, which powers an electric motor.

Siemens Energy states that, even if power demand grew by 25%, P2X could still reduce primary fossil fuel energy consumption by 50%. As a sign of its commitment to ‘green hydrogen’ production, the company has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Air Liquide regarding the creation of a large-scale electrolyser. The cooperation aims to scale up hydrogen creation, inspiring mass manufacturing of electrolysers across Europe and encouraging further development of the technology to improve process .

“Building up a sustainable hydrogen economy will still require amends to the framework conditions in the energy market,” concludes Christian Bruch, Siemens Energy CEO. “However, it will be through partnerships and collaboration that we can shape this market. With Air Liquide, collectively we will overcome the challenges that lie ahead to industrialise the technology and make sustainably generated hydrogen a success story.”

As we have explored, a range of technologies and fuels are emerging to provide the CV industry with a complex set of decisions to consider in the years to come. If one thing is for certain, hydrogen, natural gases, electrification and renewable fuels are no longer the alternative fuels of the future, but of the present.

The P2X model does not propose a new approach to the storage of hydrogen, per se, and one of the project’s partners, ENGIE Solutions, is a leader in the production of hydrogen on an industrial scale and responsible for the production and storage facility. The benefits of P2X are centred on the fact that it uses surplus energy to generate and store hydrogen.

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