ive here. This may be old information, but it comes at a time when inflation-adjusted oil prices were the same as they are now. I read then that the only environmentally defensible biofuel was Brazilian sugar cane. Part of the reason was the calorie cost of extracting arable land from food production; The other is the energy production of various biofuels.
Can readers correct this information if needed? Are vegetable oils really suitable for cars? I was under the impression that pure gas is better for the longevity of cars than gas adulterated with ethanol.
Written by Felicity Bradstock, a freelance writer specializing in energy and finance. Originally published in OilPrice
- Biofuels have grown increasingly popular in recent years as a way to reduce emissions when it comes to transportation and heating.
- In the UK, around 1.7 million homes still rely on kerosene heaters, and the government believes they can be adapted to run on water-treated vegetable oil.
- In Mexico, there is a major push to expand the use of cooking oil biofuels for public transportation, which would be a lower-cost alternative to diesel.
Interest in biofuels has increased in recent years, and as governments strive to achieve energy security and reduce emissions, this interest is growing. After a series of new climate policies around the world, energy companies are looking to reduce their emissions while ensuring the stability of their old businesses. Meanwhile, countries around the world are searching for energy sources that can be secured domestically. The UK and Mexico are two such countries, both of which are now eyeing vegetable oil as a potential energy source for heating and transportation. The use of cooking oils and animal fats in the production of biofuels is not a new concept, as many refineries in the United States use these products to produce fuels that qualify them for government tax credits. When demand for gasoline fell during the pandemic, oil companies were able to continue operations at their refineries by converting them to biofuel production and taking away the valuable government appropriations that came with it. The raw materials came from used cooking oil and animal fats, which are usually considered worthless – although sometimes difficult to obtain for this particular reason.
With several cities announcing a ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars for the next decade, companies are racing to find alternatives to gasoline and diesel, with battery electric coming to the fore. Some major automakers have also discussed the potential of a hydrogen fuel cell (HFCV). Others are looking to biodiesel to fuel the cars of the future. Biodiesel can be produced using animal fats and vegetable oils, which can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the roads. Vegetable oil can be used as a fuel for diesel engines as straight vegetable oil (SVO) or as biodiesel after conversion.
Biodiesel, which is generally seen as cleaner and more efficient in engines than SVO, is produced by a chemical process called transesterification, which involves reacting with methanol using caustic soda as a catalyst. This lowers the fuel’s viscosity and boiling point, making it more like conventional diesel fuel. Most diesel automakers have approved the use of B5, which is a blend of 95 percent petroleum diesel and 5 percent biodiesel. Some manufacturers are making engines capable of running on B20 (20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent conventional diesel) or higher. However, the shift to greater use of biodiesel has been slow to take off, as companies generally focus on other environmentally friendly vehicle options, such as electric cars and HFCVs.
But in recent months, the idea of using vegetable oil as a feedstock has been gaining momentum. In the UK, politicians are proposing to use vegetable oil for heating in rural areas. Former environment minister George Eustice has introduced to parliament a new bill encouraging the removal of charges on renewable liquid heating fuels, as well as incentives to reduce the use of kerosene in existing boilers.
About 1.7 million homes in the UK still rely on kerosene boilers, as they are not connected to the mains gas network. There are already plans in place to ban the purchase of new boilers from 2026 as homes convert to air-source or ground-source heat pump systems, but this new bill could help boost uptake of green alternatives to kerosene every now and then. Eustice suggests that installing new heating systems can be very expensive, creating a “huge barrier” to uptake. This new bill will support homes across the country in slightly adapting their kerosene boilers to make them suitable to run on hydrolyzed vegetable oil (HVO), which could reduce related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 88 percent, according to Eustice.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, there has been a major push to expand the use of biofuels from cooking oil in public transportation. Mexico’s public transportation sector continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels, with little incentive from the government to switch to less polluting alternatives. But Jorge Tenorio, CEO of Renov Biodiesel, points out that biodiesel could be the alternative needed to power the transportation system of the future. He explains, “The main raw material currently used in Mexico to produce biodiesel is cooking oil. For every liter of oil recycled, one liter of biodiesel is produced, which is cheaper than conventional diesel produced by PEMEX.” The Mexican Center for Energy Innovation’s Biodiesel Advanced (BDA) group believes that 360 million liters of used oil could be obtained in cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, with the potential to provide a low-cost, clean alternative to diesel.
As interest in biofuels continues to grow around the world, some countries are finally putting theory into practice by introducing major biofuels produced from vegetable oils into the energy mix. If new policies on the use of biofuels are passed, we could soon fuel the green transition of waste oils, which were previously destined for disposal or landfill.