HVO - a ‘short term’ fuel alternative  


Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (HVO’s) are often considered as an alternative fuel that is readily available as a “sustainable” fuel that offers a replacement for diesel and petrol in modern day transport. 

Whilst there are a number studies to suggest HVO’s offer many short term benefits, the long term use of the fuel alternative comes with significant concerns which in fact make HVO’s unsustainable over a long period of time.

HVO’s are produced by the high temperature hydrogenation of animal fats and vegetable oils in stand alone production facilities. This “hydrotreatment” uses hydrogen to break down molecules which produce the fuel alternative.  

So why are HVO’s unsustainable in the long term?

As HVO’s become more readily available, this puts a drain on current feedstock supplies. As these feedstocks start to run out, significant areas of land are needed to produce replacement fuel crops which will lead to mass deforestation.

Along with the deforestation, to accommodate the new crop growth, heavy use of fertiliser and soil acidification also add doubts around sustainability and impact to the environment. Different feedstocks being used to produce the fuel are also known to create inconsistencies with fuel quality.

From a scientific perspective, HVO’s have lower calorific value per unit volume than standard fuels, meaning use in commercial transport requires more fuel needed to be carried and an increase in cost for fuel. 

With this, HVO’s will only be able to provide 7-8% of the UK’s primary energy demand, simply not enough to become a long term alternative fossil fuels.