Matthew Stone, Renovare Fuels: Next Generation Renewables

Renewable fuels are playing an ever-increasing role in the UK transport industry. Driven by the UK Government’s efforts to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) stipulates that, from January 2021, fuel suppliers will be required to increase the proportion of renewables within their total sales.

Led by a management team of experienced professionals that includes Business Development Director Duncan Clark, Renovare Fuels could play a pivotal role in helping UK fuel companies meet the strict new criteria being imposed.

renewable-diesel

Biofuels are increasingly being used to power vehicles around the world

The UK transport industry generated 28% of total UK pollution in 2019, making it the country’s most polluting sector. The robust RTFO scheme was implemented to drive sustainability in the industry through the reduction of GHG emissions.

Under the scheme, transport fuel providers who provide more than 450,000 litres of petrol, gas oil or diesel must incorporate a prescribed amount of renewable fuels within their overall fuel sales, or forfeit a per-litre penalty.

Under the terms of the RTFO, the amount of renewables fuel suppliers must include in their products rises every year. The strategy forms an integral part of UK Government efforts to reduce the amount of carbon produced by the transport sector – a vital element of bringing total GHG emissions to net zero by 2050. Fuel suppliers will be required to increase development of renewable fuel components to at least 10.68% of their total supply levels in 2021.

Introduced in the 1980s, standard renewables like biodiesel and bioethanol produce similar levels of carbon dioxide emissions to fossil fuels when they are burned. However, rather than being produced from finite resources, they are derived from biomass feedstocks. These are typically grown specifically for the production of fuel or produced using waste products from other industries, such as agriculture and food. Although biomass produces CO2 when burned, this is offset by carbon dioxide absorbed by feedstock during the production process, effectively creating a closed loop process.

biofuel-powered-vehicle

Lower GHG emissions and empowerment of rural economy are major benefits associated with bioethanol

In 2019, advanced development fuels were added to the terms of the RTFO, enabling fuel companies to integrate next generation biofuels into market supplies in addition to standard renewables.

With the exception of segregated fats and oils and renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs), development fuels are synthesised from residual feedstock or sustainable waste. To qualify under the scheme, a development fuel must have a GHG saving of at least 60% more than that offset by fossil fuels. Renewable diesel must be blendable at a rate of at least 25% with conventional diesel, while still meeting the EN590 fuel specification. Fuels which possess these superior carbon neutrality credentials are eligible for double the amount of Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates per kilo or litre compared with standard renewable fuels.

As Matthew Stone – Renovare Fuels’ Chairman – explains, development biofuels overcome many limitations associated with first-generation biofuels. From a physical and chemical perspective, Renovare Fuels’ next generation biofuels are closer to conventional fossil fuels, particularly in terms of performance and end product quality, while producing just three grams of CO2 per megajoule of biomass – which is just 3% of that generated by fossil fuels.

Standard biofuels have a limited impact in reducing GHG emissions, chiefly due to the type of feedstock used and low fuel quality. In contrast, development fuels are much more efficient, since they are specifically designed to eliminate emissions throughout the production process, as well as radically reducing those produced when used as an end fuel. As Matthew Stone points out, next generation development fuels show vast potential, supporting the UK Government’s GHG reduction goals.

The Promise of Algae

This year has witnessed the U.S. Navy debut their “Great Green Fleet,” the first aircraft carrier strike group powered largely by alternative, nonpetroleum-based fuels, the British Ministry of Defence launch a competition to reduce its equipment energy spend and the Pentagon increase its investment in clean-energy technologies, including biofuels development.  Could we be witnessing the start of the end of our reliance on “fossil fuel” petroleum?

algae_biofuels

In 2010, the MOD spent £628m on equipment energy and, for every 1p per litre rise in the price of fuel, the MOD’s annual equipment energy bill increases by £13m. These rising oil prices have once again positioned biofuels centre stage as a potential substitute to fulfil our global thirst for fuel.

With so many biofuel crops needing to compete for space and freshwater supplies with agriculture, algae are being seen as an ideal, sustainable alternative.  Algae can be grown in areas where crops cannot, but until now, it’s been difficult to achieve the scale needed for commercial  algal production.

Leading international authority on algal biotechnology and head of the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (www.CCAP.ac.uk), Dr John Day, thinks it’s a major step forward.  Dr Day has over 25 years’ experience in biotechnology and applied algal research and comments “Commercial confidence in the scalability of algal biofuel production is an exciting step forward in the journey towards sustainable, economic biofuel production using microalgae.

Algae Cultures at the Scottish Association for Marine Science

“A major driver for the development of algal biofuels has been fuel security and the US Navy has successfully tested nearly all of its ships and aircraft on biofuel blends containing algal oils — including an F-18 fighter flying at twice the speed of sound and a ship moving at 50 knots.”

“Scientists at SAMS and elsewhere have been contributing to the global development of knowledge on algal biofuel. It is this understanding of the biology of these enigmatic microbes and our capacity to successfully cultivate them that will be the key to producing algal biofuels and other products.”

Driven by the desire to reduce reliance on foreign countries for petroleum, and the constant pressure to reduce costs, Governments are taking sustainable fuels very seriously.  (A recent report highlighted that Pentagon investment in green technologies rose to $1.2 billion, up from $400 million, and is projected to reach $10 billion annually by 2030.)  The Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (which finances and monitors research into algae fuels,) says it has now managed to produce algafuel for $2 per gallon and that it will produce jet aircraft quality algafuel for $3 per gallon by 2013. Unsurprisingly, commercial aviation companies around the world are also taking an interest in algae biofuels to reduce their own costs and carbon footprints.

As interest grows and more funding becomes available, the industry is blossoming and more skilled people are needed. Could we witness a global shift to sustainable fuels in our lifetime?  We certainly hope so.