The truth about waste-derived biofuels for fleet operators

14 June 2024 | 15 Shares

Source: Argent Energy

There is a mixture of preconceptions and misinformation around the subject of biodiesel, which is highly unfortunate in the logistics and bus industry, where heavy duty vehicles form the operational backbone of many companies. It’s time to debunk these myths and explore the true potential of biodiesel in driving decarbonisation in the industry.

Part of the general misconception stems from the fact that the technologies of biofuel refining and engine design have changed radically over the last decade. What might have been strongly held opinions based on empirical data from just a couple of years ago are no longer valid, and with the legislative tide turning against fossil fuel-derived diesel, it’s likely time to reexamine ways for companies to address their carbon emissions.

All over the world, governments are pressuring organisations they see as big polluters by means of fuel taxes and legislation with various mandates and targets in place to reduce carbon emissions. Regardless of the fact that HGV traffic is a vital element of the UK economy, it’s nevertheless incumbent on transport companies to lower vehicle  CO₂ output. Electric and hydrogen-powered engines are alternative paths the industry can take, but they are not yet fully viable technologically or economically. Therefore we need to displace as much fossil diesel as we can with suitable biofuels in the interim. HVO and other fuels may be available, but there could be constraints due to supply and cost.

So, in an environment of tight margins and few apparent alternatives other than passing costs along the supply chain, now is the time to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about biofuels in 2024.

Untruth #1: It’s not a suitable choice to use during cold weather

A mix of biofuel and fossil fuel diesel at 5, 10, 20 or 30% biofuel is entirely viable, except in truly arctic conditions. Scandinavian carriers may wish to err on the side of caution and keep the mix below 15%, but otherwise, biofuel mixes reduce carbon emissions by up to 28% with a B30 fuel (30% biofuel), with no negative effects on engine performance.

Metroline, a member of multi-modal land transport operator ComfortDelGro that runs around 40,000 vehicles worldwide in rail, taxi, bus and coach services across 12 countries, has a huge presence in London and is a big user of diesel/biofuel mixes. Its Director of Engineering Strategy, Ian Foster, told us: “B20 could actually be the average, reached using B10 or B30 depending on the weather conditions, so the fuel supplier is using the weather forecast, and they’re weakening or strengthening the mixture according to local conditions.”

Fact: all road diesel in the UK is already running on a B7 (up to 7% biodiesel), so you’re likely driving on some form of biofuel right now .

Untruth #2: Biofuel is expensive and environmentally damaging

Using a waste-based biofuel mix in a vehicle is barely more costly than a tank of fossil fuel diesel. In fact, they are around the same price, yet the biofuel creates around 90% less CO₂ when burnt. Even with low-ratio mixes, carbon emissions are cut dramatically. The refining processes that turn waste oils and fats into biofuel are relatively cost-effective, so there’s actually very little extra cost to be passed on to the end customer.

As for price, Mr Foster acknowledges that fuel plays a part in overall profitability. “Anyone you speak to in transport will tell you the margins are paper thin,” he said. “I think that the work that biofuels supplier, Argent Fuels did with us in terms of containing the price has helped us both. We can retain a competitive price on the fuel and they can make a decent living. But there’s a balance!”

Fact: switching to biofuel won’t leave your wallet gasping for air; it’s like getting a carbon-conscious upgrade, all at little to no extra cost!

Untruth #3: Biofuel production has an impact on food supply and security

Despite certain tales suggesting the use of unconventional feedstocks, the reality of biodiesel production is that it revolves around the utilisation of a diverse range of raw materials. With a host of biodiesel producers out there, top manufacturers, including the likes of Argent, stand out by exclusively using certified waste oils and fats, ensuring no effects on the food or feed supply chain. These materials are classified as certified wastes by EU and UK standards which are laid out in the Renewable Energy Directive and the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation respectively. That means they are not used for biofuels if they have other ‘higher’ uses  such as oleochemicals.

If this is a concern, operators can prioritize sustainability by choosing a producer that states in only uses certified waste materials.

Fact: Using certified waste materials exclusively for biodiesel production not only helps the environment, but gives new life to something that’s considered truly end-of-life.

Untruth #4: Our vehicles’ warranties don’t cover the use of biofuels

Many vehicle manufacturers in the UK and the EU now warranty their engines for the use of biodiesel-fossil fuel diesel up to B20 grade fuel (20% biofuel). Older vehicles and those not covered by manufacturers’ warranties can be covered with third-party warranties, which, over the course of a mixed fuel vehicle’s lifetime, add only negligible cost.

Metroline’s Ian Foster told us that the vast majority of fuel problems affecting engines come not from the nature of the diesel or its mix, but from operators not cleaning their facilities’ fuel tanks and systems:

“When I joined the business, there were lots of things that we changed around, certainly in terms of fuel tank cleaning […] where pollution can occur. When people don’t take care of their fuel storage system, you end up with all kinds of problems.”

Fact: fuel mixes with 10 or 20% biodiesel are covered by most vehicle manufacturers’ warranties. Any small increase on overheads will be covered by GHG savings and the reduction of carbon tax.

Conclusions

Decreasing a company’s reliance on fossil fuels, even by a small amount, significantly reduces the overall carbon emissions across the fleet. A B30 mix, for example, can reduce CO₂ by around 28%, with negligible extra cost to the transport operator. With restrictions on emissions gradually being ramped up by governments and lobby groups, deploying greener fuel policies now is an investment in the long-term survival of a transport business.

Renewable fuel waste oils and fats in the form of biodiesel bring all the benefits of next-generation fuels like HVO but with none of the associated costs. And unlike hydrogen or electric alternatives (themselves many years distant), operators do not need to rely on new infrastructure or leases on new vehicles with adapted engines.

Source: Argent Energy

Argent Fuels offers bulk deliveries of a range of high blend fuels and biodiesel mixes across the UK, from grade B10 (10% biodiesel), to B15 and B30. That means HGV operators can begin to make a difference to the oft-quoted statement that the sector produces 80% of road traffic’s carbon emissions despite comprising only 20% of vehicles on the road.

Logistics and supply chain businesses can take the opportunity to offer in-demand greener delivery options, creating market differentiation and developing fuelling policies that will insulate them from the inevitable changes that await the industry.

To learn more about Argent Fuels (part of European conglomerate Argent Energy), head over to the company’s website or contact a representative from the company to learn more. The company was the first supplier of high blend biodiesel beginning in 2008 and today, it serves hundreds of fleets and thousands of vehicles across the UK with carbon-saving fuel.