Using chip fat to replace fossil fuel for cars is 'not sustainable'

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A new report has rubbished the idea of chip fat becoming a renewable replacement for fossil fuels in cars because the majority of used cooking oil supplies in the UK are imported across the world and could be linked to deforestation.

Nearly half of the used cooking oil supplied to the UK last year came from China, with 224million tonnes being imported, says green transport campaign group, Transport & Environment.

Another 49million tonnes was imported from Malaysia, which alone is more than what was produced by UK households and business that year.

‘Countries that would use used cooking oils for animal feed and other products are exporting to the UK and using cheap oil, like palm, at home. The UK government should scrap its plan to push up demand for biofuels, including used cooking oil, to avoid fuelling deforestation,’ says T&E’s UK director Greg Archer.

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Amendments to the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation – which regulates the supply of renewable transport fuels – propose that biofuel added to petrol and diesel should rise by nearly 15 per cent next year. 

The green campaign group says the proposed increase has been ‘rushed out’ ahead of the Decarbonisation of Transport Plan and proposals to increase the use of sustainable aviation biofuels.  

Archer said: ‘The UK’s increasing thirst for used cooking oil to power transport is 15 times more than can be supplied from British deep fat fryers. 

‘This leaves us reliant on used oil being shipped from the other side of the world.’

He went on to add that the countries supplying the UK with used cooking oils are then turning to the likes of palm oil as cheap alternatives.

Palm oil has been – and continues to be – a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino, says WWF.

The UK can increase the amount of used cooking oils that can be sourced locally from households and businesses, says T&E, but as its study shows, this is limited by both the capacity of local authorities to collect it and how much used cooking oil Europeans produce. 

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According to T&E, there’s no way to prove these imports are sustainable and fears there will be a wider impact on deforestation.

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And with no testing of these products arriving in the UK, experts believe the unregulated trade of used cooking oil is also ripe for fraud.

In the UK Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, used cooking oil will be counted double towards national climate targets. This means it is often traded at a higher price than virgin oil which increases the risk that virgin oils are fraudulently mixed with imported used oil. 

The EU Court of Auditors has said that voluntary schemes cannot guarantee that all the used cooking oil imported into Europe, including the UK, is actually ‘used’. 

And in the past few years there have been a number of allegations of fraudulent practices linked to the used cooking oil biodiesel industry.   

Archer concluded: ‘At this moment we cannot be certain that used cooking oil is actually used. We therefore need to be careful of relying on dubious imports from countries like Malaysia that are huge producers of palm oil. 

‘For the waste oil that it does import, the UK should strengthen its verification and monitoring requirements along the supply chain and do regular checks to make sure it is really a waste product. Otherwise we will end up doing more harm than good.’  

The report comes as the UK – along with other countries around the world – has set itself strict targets to reduce transport emissions in the next decade.

This includes the ban on sale of new petrol and diesel cars in Britain from 2030, with motorists soon to be forced to purchase only electric cars – and potentially hybrids for a restricted period before they’re also removed from new-vehicle showrooms. 

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Biofuels have been suggested as an option to reduce emissions of existing vehicles – including lorries – which have a higher oil content made up primarily from plants and vegetables. 

Because these crops can be re-grown and absorb CO2 in the process, it means they cancel out the carbon emitted when used in car engines.

However, T&E reports that in 2018 some 65 per cent of all the palm oil imported into the EU was used for energy – and more than half (53 per cent) was used to make biodiesel for cars and trucks. Another 12 per cent of palm oil imports were used to generate electricity and heating, it said.

Synthetic eFuel might be the answer to greener ICE cars

Porsche is currently leading the charge to launch an alternative to fossil fuels, called eFuel.

The German sports car maker plans to begin production of the synthetic fuel next year in a bid to encourage governments to allow internal combustion engine cars to remain on sale beyond 2030 if the fuel is proved to significantly cut vehicle emissions.

Its e-Fuel is a complex hydrocarbon that’s manmade rather than grown to speed up production compared to the natural process. 

Water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen using wind-generated electricity and then CO2 filtered from the air is combined with ‘green hydrogen’ to form methanol which is then turned into fuel that can be pumped into cars.

Porsche has signed a partnership with Siemens Energy for the project, with the latter providing renewable wind-energy solutions. 

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