HVO for home heating – off the grid but on the radar

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is a near drop-in alternative to kerosene that produces nearly 90% less greenhouse gas emissions and derives entirely from waste products. The ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification) has confirmed that production of the fossil-free fuel does not contribute to deforestation and can be correctly labelled ‘sustainable’. With an inevitable ban on the use of kerosene in domestic heating, HVO offers a lifeline for the 1.5 million households across the UK and 0.7 million in the Republic of Ireland currently heating their homes with liquid fuels.

Throughout the UK with boilers and Agas have already been adapted to burn HVO for heating and cooking and all evidence suggests these trials are running smoothly. These trials show that a boiler conversion kit (expected to cost around £500) is likely all that will be required to prepare homes for HVO. Oil storage tanks are typically compatible with HVO and HVO blends already (we can confirm that Tuffa’s oil tanks are) which makes the switch to HVO relatively seamless and affordable for most.

However, HVO is currently commercially available only as a diesel alternative. The government has not yet acknowledged HVO as an alternative heating fuel for those already off the gas grid. Instead, heat pumps and biomass systems are still being pushed as a one-size-fits-all solution while it’s clear that these options are often unsuitable for properties off the grid. Oil-heated homes are often more than a century old, lack the consistent electrical supply to run a heat pump and are typically poorly insulated with an EPC Rating between ‘E’ and ‘G’. Heat pumps require a minimum of EPC ‘C’ to work effectively and can be costly to sufficiently insulate; Government calculations suggest that the cost of retrofitting a house with an EPC of ‘E-G’ would be around £15,000. Coupled with the cost of a heat pump or biomass boiler (circa £10,000 – £20,000) it’s not an economically viable option for most off-grid homeowners. Comparatively, there is no discernible difference in heat output from a home heated with HVO than a home using kerosene, making retrofitting beneficial but not essential.

While the government have not yet published plans to ban the use of kerosene altogether, its use is being phased out with the “Clean Growth Strategy” banning fossil fuel boilers from new build homes by 2025. Future Ready Fuels is a UKIFDA and OFTEC coalition ultimately aimed at helping to convince the government to provide a greater variety of heating options for off-grid homes. They predict that the upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy (which will detail government changes to home heating aimed at achieving net-zero emissions) could include proposals to ban the installation of all new oil boilers from as early as 2028 with a complete kerosene ban during the 2030s.

Among the points the UK Government will no doubt consider when checking the feasibility of using HVO for home heating is the available supply and cost of the fuel. Demand for HVO is high with the road transport industry, in particular, showing a large appetite for biofuel. HVO is one of the very few sustainable fuels suitable for the rigid requirements of the aviation industry. However, the facilities and supply of waste materials used to produce HVO is also increasing with production forecast to rise by over 300% in Europe alone between 2020 and 2025 with the rest of the world including the US expected to increase production by a similar amount. We’re also experiencing greater investment in and uptake of electric vehicles which could result in less demand in the near future.

Future Ready Fuels are confident that the supply of HVO shouldn’t be an issue. Representatives from the project have been in contact with the main European and US HVO suppliers and have received reassurance that their plans to increase production would meet demand from UK domestic heating. It should also be noted that the expectation isn’t to switch to pure HVO immediately, but, to begin with a 10-30% HVO and 70-90% Kerosene blend and gradually increase the ratio of HVO used until it reached 100% much closer to the 2050 deadline. This will allow for a smoother transition for homeowners, the energy industry and the government while providing more time to increase HVO production.

Finally, while HVO retail costs are higher than diesel, it is hoped that HVO for heating will be subsidized in a scheme similar to what we have seen for green transport fuels. Even without subsidies, the comparatively small initial capital required will likely make HVO heating more affordable and realistic than low-carbon options currently on the market.

Anyone invested in seeing HVO acknowledged by the government is encouraged to add their voice to OFTEC, UKIFDA, Tuffa and everyone who has written to their MP to get renewable liquid fuels supported as part of future heating policy. Search ‘Future Ready Fuel’ to find a template letter to send to your MP.

Remember, while we’re still waiting for legislation to change, your Tuffa tank is already compatible and future-ready! However, if you have a single skin tank, a plastic tank over 20 years old or a steel tank over 30 years old then we would recommend purchasing a new bunded Tuffa oil tank when switching to HVO or a HVO blend. If you want to replace an oil tank or install a new tank next to a building or boundary then check out our Fire Protected Oil Tanks. This unique tank range is LABC Assured and allows compliant installations adjacent to buildings and boundaries. More information and installation advice are available on our Expert Guide to Fire Rated Oil Tanks.

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