Fuelling a greener future: Unwastied potential with waste-based biodiesel for HGVs
According to the most recent Carbon Budget, the UK urgently needs to reduce its emissions to achieve net-zero status by 2050. The report estimated that emissions would need to decrease by 68 per cent compared to 1990 in just a decade. If the country is to reach this target, it would make logical sense to begin decarbonising some of the disproportionately high-emission sectors, which include Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) fleets.
Indeed, the government’s ‘Decarbonising Transport: A Better Greener Britain’ plan emphasised the urgent need to mitigate carbon emissions within HGVs, specifically by prioritising the transition to low-emission and zero-emission vehicles. A report from the Green Finance Institute, published in November 2023 revealed that, while the UK’s HGVs account for just one per cent of all vehicles on the roads, they are responsible for 19 per cent of total transport emissions. Therefore, urgent action is still needed to reduce the carbon footprint of these high-polluting vehicles.
When it comes to decarbonising transport in general, most of the conversation is around electric vehicles. The UK government pledged to stop the sale of diesel HGVs by 2040 two years ago, but it has still not set out a detailed plan of how to transition to zero-emission electric lorries.
There are currently approximately 18,000 public charging points available for 400,000 electric vans and passenger vehicles, but the Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimates that around 325,000 charging points will be needed to cater for the goal of 23.2 million electric vehicles. On top of insufficient infrastructure, replacing an existing HGV fleet with electric alternatives is costly. Recent research from Element Energy revealed that while city, urban and regional deliveries with rigid electric HGVs are close to being cheaper than the diesel equivalent on a total cost of ownership (TCO) basis, it won’t be until the early 2030s that other use cases will reach cost parity. A new electric HGV currently costs up to £200,000.
If the UK is to reach its net-zero goals, fleet operators need a viable option to deploy today while the transition to total electrification is underway. Many sustainable fuel alternatives, like hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), have been talked about for decades, but HVO remains hugely expensive compared to fossil fuel diesel despite its ‘drop-in replacement’ convenience. For an alternative fuel to be truly feasible for fleet operators, its price must, at the very least, be comparable to diesel.
Contrary to misconceptions, high-blend biodiesel – a blend of sustainable biodiesel mixed with fossil fuel diesel – is proving to be a cost-effective and accessible intermediate solution for reducing emissions in the HGV sector. High-blend costs are broadly in line with standard diesel and, in some supply chains, biodiesel actually shows cost improvements.
But a higher price per litre is not the only myth many fleet operators have heard related to blended biodiesel: it has been said to negatively affect engines. Most manufacturer warranties cover blend rates up to B30 – 30 per cent biodiesel, 70 per cent diesel – proving they are considered safe for vehicle engines. While biodiesel can solidify in cold temperatures, so can standard diesel, which is why summer-grade fossil diesel should not be used in the cold winter months. The fuels’ operating temperatures are carefully managed by suppliers and blenders through their manufacture and level of blending so they avoid any cold weather issues.
There are also misconceptions about what biodiesel actually is and its true environmental impact. Waste-based biodiesel is made entirely from waste-certified fats and oils, like grease trap waste, that would otherwise end up on landfill sites. This material undergoes a rigorous processing phase to remove impurities and contaminants that could compromise the biodiesel’s quality before being chemically converted into biodiesel fuel.
The resulting fuel is non-toxic, biodegradable and can achieve around a 90 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions when directly compared with burning fossil fuels. It also produces significantly less carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and other air pollutants than conventional diesel because its higher cetane number allows for easier ignition and more efficient combustion. Furthermore, biodiesel does not need the synthetic friction modifiers typical in fossil fuel-derived diesel because its natural lubricating properties make it more surface active, reducing friction.
All diesel currently available on UK roads may legally contain up to seven per cent biodiesel, but, subject to the cold filter plugging point (CFPP) of the end fuel, all vehicles operate on blends of 20 per cent or 30 per cent – B20 and B30 – without needing any modifications. This means that existing HGVs can swap conventional diesel with high-blend biofuel today, reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by up to 27 per cent, while continuing operations as normal and with little to no extra cost. High-blend biodiesel, therefore, offers an immediate, greener alternative for hard-to-decarbonize heavy-duty vehicles amid the ongoing transition to electrification and other net-zero technologies.
Argent Fuels is one of the leading producers of waste-based biodiesels in Europe. This means it does not use crops that could contribute to deforestation or compete with food crops for agricultural space. All that goes into the fuel is material that is not food-suitable and would otherwise likely be thrown away. The company offers bespoke high-fuel blends from B10 to B30, as well as B100, and its expert fuels team can help build a strategy around a business’s specific cost and sustainability requirements. Argent has partnered with bus operators Transdev and Metroline to save over 22,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from emission per year.
Discover how Argent can help decarbonise your fleet today by getting in touch with its expert team