UK study suggests biodiesel will be critical to oilheat market

By Bryan Sims | October 10, 2011

The use of renewable alternatives to petroleum-based heating oil in the U.K., such as fatty acid methyl esters, has the potential to significantly reduce fuel costs and carbon emission profiles, according to a report published by the National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials (NNFCC) titled “Evaluation of Bioliquid Technologies for Dedicated Heat Generation.”

According to Fiona McDermott, biomass research officer at the NNFCC and author of the report, the study considered bioliquids with the potential to be used as heating fuel, either now or in the near-term, such as vegetable oil, biodiesel and, to a lesser extent, tallow. The scope of the study was to identify suitable technology options for dedicated heat generation—excluding combined heat and power—from a range of bioliquid fuels, both in their neat forms and blended with fossil-based blends, and also to research the capital costs of these technologies.

In the study, McDermott determined two main options where bioliquids such as FAME could become more widely used in heating applications within the U.K. The first would be to modify existing kerosene or gas oil-fired boiler to those that could instead be capable of burning bioliquids such as through burner retrofit or replacement of ancillary kits such as the fuel tank.

The second option McDermott found was the installation of new purpose-built boiler systems that would be specified to burn bioliquids (usually biodiesel). In either case, McDermott said consideration needs to be given to the type of bioliquid used whether it is in the pure forms of biodiesel, gas oil or a mixture blended with fossil-based kerosene.

“The key is to ensure that sufficient fuel preheating where required, depending on the blend of fuel used of course,” McDermott told Biodiesel Magazine. “It’s quite important to ensure that the fuel handling systems feeding into the boiler are compatible with the nozzles and the burners used, but that doesn’t seem to be a barrier financially or technically so I think that will be overcome.”

According to the NNFCC, there are currently 1.4 million households in the U.K. that use heating oil. Additionally, the country goes through 100,000 metric tons of gas oil and 2.3 million metric tons of kerosene annually.

The main market opportunity for bioliquid heat was found to be existing oil users, primarily those off the gas-grid with a smaller secondary market potential in new-build housing. This sector is comprised of domestic, commercial and industrial users and uptake may consist of a variety of converted boilers, new dedicated heat plants and potentially use of centralized boilers connected to district heat networks. The report found that biodiesel will be the preferred bioliquid fuel in the near-term because it’s of higher and more consistent quality than vegetable or used cooking oils.

While biodiesel capacity and consumption might be relatively minor compared with fossil-based kerosene use, McDermott noted that there are biodiesel firms working on developing supply chains for entering the heating oil market.

“There are quite a number of organizations looking at encouraging off-take,” she said, adding the focus tends to be small-scale. “A lot of these companies developing these fuel supply chains are, for example, local collectors of waste vegetable oil where they might have a very small biodiesel production facility that they’re looking to sell locally and they see the heat market as a value-added offering where less regulation is present compared to selling it in the fuel market.”

McDermott pointed to impactful fuel oil organizations like OFTEC (Oil Firing Technical Association), the technical and marketing body for the oil firing industry in the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland based in Ipswich, Suffolk, that are driving forces behind helping promote increased biodiesel use in fossil-based kerosene where heating oil applications are highly present. 

“OFTEC has really pushed their membership to confront the competition that’s coming from the renewable heat technologies and they’ve pushed membership to look at the viability of renewable heating oil blends using kerosene, gas oil and biodiesel.”

OFTEC has been busy developing fuel specifications, supply chain documentation and devising safety requirements for different bioliquids in heating oil within the U.K. In July, OFTEC published a provisional fuel specification for a B30K blend (30 percent FAME and 70 percent kerosene) that can be used on existing oil heating appliances with very few system modifications.

In August, the oil heating industry united to urge Climate Change Minister Greg Barker to incentivize the millions of consumers across the U.K. who use oil to heat their homes to switch to renewable bioliquids such as biodiesel. In a letter to Barker, OFTEC, The Federation of Petroleum Suppliers and ICOM Energy Association argue that substituting 30 percent of the kerosene used in heating oil for more environmentally friendly bioliquid would reduce carbon emissions by 28 percent with up to 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide removed by 2020.

To incentivize this switch, heating oil advocates are calling for the U.K. federal government to include bioliquid derived from waste cooking oil in its Renewable Heat Incentive and implement a minimum 8 pence per kilowatt-hour subsidy. If included in the RHI, 90 percent of existing oil customers could transfer to use it by 2020, which would enable the U.K. government to achieve its carbon emission targets.

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