Those of you who follow our sustainability journey on My Home Farm will know that last winter we ran our central heating bivalently, meaning that our air source heat pump was supplemented by our boiler that was fuelled by HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) when temperatures dropped to levels where the heat pump was not efficient.
Remarkably, by running our system the way we did, we greatly reduced our CO2 emissions, and we published our results here. With the current levels of renewables around as part of the UK’s energy mix, electricity is still largely generated by gas, which doesn’t make heat pumps 100% green.
Despite us cutting our CO2 emissions last winter, we received scores of messages and comments saying that biofuels like HVO are bad because they’re detracting from food crops and should be reserved solely for transportation.
Here’s the thing. HVO used in the UK is a waste product from the food industry, and given the size of the fast food market, there’s a lot of waste oil around. Disposing of this oil can be expensive and complicated. So what’s better for the environment? Is it better for all the cooking oil from the frying and food industry to end up in waterways, sewers and landfill, or does it make more sense to process it and turn it into a heating fuel?
There are several reasons why rural properties in the United Kingdom should have the option to switch from kerosene to HVO for their heating.
Firstly, HVO is a renewable and sustainable fuel source that can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Unlike kerosene, which is derived from fossil fuels, HVO is made from waste vegetable oils and animal fats, which are renewable resources. This means that using HVO can help to reduce the UK’s reliance on non-renewable energy sources and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Another advantage of HVO is that it is a clean-burning fuel that can help to improve air quality. When burned, HVO produces fewer emissions of harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and sulfur dioxide compared to kerosene. This can help to reduce the risk of air pollution and improve the health and well-being of rural residents.
Offering rural properties the option to switch from kerosene to HVO can provide a range of benefits, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality, and increased energy security. It is therefore important for the UK government to support and promote the use of HVO in the rural sector. Scroll to the bottom of this article to see how you can become involved.
Given that there are between 1.5-1.7 million rural homes in the UK that are using kerosene to heat their homes, many of which can’t make the switch to heat pumps for a variety of reasons, is it not sensible to simply replace the kerosene with HVO and reduce carbon emissions by 90% over night?
The production volume of vegetable oil in the 2021/2022 crop year exceeded 200 million metric tons worldwide. One metric tonne is 1,000 litres – that’s a lot of zeroes and a lot of vegetable oil. The bulk of this oil enters the food chain, and I often chuckle at the hypocrisy of some of the comments we’ve received. The finger pointed at homes wanting to burn HVO is that these homes are contributing towards the depletion of food crops. Currently, about 30% of all agricultural land in the world, between 300-425 million hectares (that’s 1 billion acres) is dedicated to vegetable oil crops. In fact, more land is allocated to growing vegetable oil crops than all the world’s fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, roots and tubers put together.
This oil is used in takeaways, fast food, processed food or microwave and ready-made meals. These foods are all rich in vegetable oil usage, leading to massive amounts of waste oil, and much of the waste oil ends in our sewers, waterways, oceans and in landfill.
Cooking oil that is disposed of in landfills has a particularly negative environmental impact. As the oil decomposes, it can release harmful substances into the soil and groundwater, potentially contaminating local water sources. This in turn pollutes seas, oceans, subterraneous water and the soil which in turn affects human health, plants and most of aquatic life.
Additionally, cooking oil that is improperly disposed of can contribute to the formation of harmful substances such as fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) when it decomposes. FAMEs are toxic to aquatic life and can have negative impacts on the health of rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water.
Would it not be better to collect this used oil and turn it into heating fuel like HVO and reduce CO2 emissions? I think it’s a no-brainer.
Benefits of using HVO for home heating
- HVO is renewable and sustainable, as it is made from waste plant-based feedstocks such as vegetable oils and animal fats. This means that it can be replenished relatively quickly, reducing our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels.
- HVO produces fewer emissions than traditional fossil fuels, such as kerosene or propane. This can help reduce air pollution and improve air quality in your home and the surrounding area.
- HVO is biodegradable and non-toxic, making it safer to handle and transport than some other types of fuels.
- HVO can be used in most standard heating systems without requiring any modifications or special equipment.
Using HVO for home heating can provide a number of environmental and practical benefits compared to traditional fossil fuels. It is important to consult with a heating professional to determine if HVO is a suitable option for your home and heating system, but if you’ve got a working oil boiler, it should be OK to make the switch..
HVO is currently eligible for a tax rebate under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) program in the transportation sector, which aims to encourage the use of low-carbon fuels in the UK, but these same rebates are bizarrely not available for home heating. So HVO is very expensive compared to kerosene because of these levies and taxes imposed on it as a heating fuel.
If your property is currently heated by kerosene in the UK, and you’d like to potentially switch to HVO to cut your heating CO2 emissions we encourage you to write to your member of parliament (MP). To save you some time, we have provided a template that you can use and adapt. Download it here.
If you’d like more information about HVOs you can visit the Future Ready Fuel.