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HVO fuel – what you need to know

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Fuel Additive Science Technologies Limited (FAST) formulates, blends and distributes fuel additives under the exocet® brand and as own-brand products for a wide range of customers.

Our fuel additives use tried and tested chemistry and methodology from the world’s most reputable suppliers.

Our staff includes recognised oil and fuel industry professionals of long-standing, with experience in fuels science, refinery processes and chemicals manufacture.

For more information visit Exocet

What is HVO?

HVO stands for hydrogenated or hydrotreated vegetable oil. It is made by reacting vegetable or other oils with hydrogen at high temperature and pressure.

The process itself is fairly energy intensive and currently the hydrogen comes from natural gas. In future it might come from biogas or via electrolysis.

HVO is not necessarily new: it has been around as a ‘concept’ or ‘boutique’ fuel for more than 15 years.

Is HVO a good fuel?

The short answer is ‘yes’. It is made up of straight chained molecules, contains few impurities and burns very cleanly, similar to paraffin.

It is made from renewable resources but does not contain FAME – the root cause of many of the fuel storage problems and fuel filter blocking issues.

It has a naturally high cetane number meaning that ignition is easy and combustion is complete – this reduces smoke and particulate emissions.

It is a drop-in replacement for many distillate fossil fuel grades such as diesel, gas oil and kerosene. It can also be blended with traditional fuels in any proportion.

It has good cold weather properties and good long-term storage stability.

Tailpipe emissions of CO and CO2 are reduced due to the high hydrogen to carbon ratio and some reduction in NOx is claimed, although this is usually a function of engine set-up and combustion temperature.

Why am I being offered it?

The fuel industry is under political pressure to come up with a low carbon liquid alternative to diesel, gas oil and kerosene.

The decarbonisation of the transport sector – on road and off-road – as well as the home heating oil sector is seen as having a major impact on the need to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

HVO offers an immediate and fungible alternative to fossil fuels without any need for vehicle modification or changes to supply infrastructure.

Are there any downsides?

The immediate problem is one of availability. The world has woken up to the possibilities for HVO and demand is increasing.

Currently, supply is limited, however, and not matching demand and the new production plants scheduled to come online are still some way off. As a result, finished fuel is having to be shipped long distances.

Consequently, prices will remain at a premium compared to regular diesel, gas oil and kerosene and we have heard ~20 pence per litre extra as a ball-park figure.

Whilst a 90% cradle-to-grave reduction is greenhouse gas emissions is claimed, this is a controversial number: using land to grow fuel rather than food is leading to deforestation, which is said to be contributing up to 18% of global emissions.*

Volumetric fuel consumption is also slightly higher with HVO, although in reality this will probably not be noticed.

Is there an alternative?

Biofuels are likely to be a small part of the long-term solution to our energy requirements. HVO is probably a very good short-term alternative, but the urgency is hindered by a lack of immediate availability.

At FAST, as fuel specialists and suppliers of fuel additives, we cannot and will not make any claims that remotely approach those made for HVO in terms of emissions reduction.

But, as we say, as good as HVO is, it isn’t for everyone, simply because there isn’t enough to go around.

Well-sourced regular fuel, stored correctly and dosed with additives that keep the injectors clean and optimise the combustion process, when used in a well-maintained engine will reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption by up to 4%.

*from “How Bad Are Bananas” by Mike Berners-Lee (2020)