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Households who use heating oil should be preparing to transition to biofuel, says industry body

PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 June 2019

OFTEC technician inspects tank Pictures: Malcolm Farrow

OFTEC technician inspects tank Pictures: Malcolm Farrow

M Farrow

OFTEC recommends thousands of homeowners in East Anglia who use heating oil to warm their homes should consider a new fuel made from food waste as a low carbon alternative.

OFTEC technician at workOFTEC technician at work

OFTEC, which stands for the Oil Firing Technical Association, represents the oil heating and cooking sector, and has its head office in Kesgrave on the outskirts of Ipswich. It is recommending that biofuel offers a straight-forward alternative for consumers who are currently using heating oil and that it will enable them to move gradually to a more environmentally-friendly fuel with lower carbon emissions.

Currently, the standard 
heating oil used in East Anglia is kerosene, a product derived from crude oil. It has for many years been the popular choice for people who are not connected to the gas grid in the region. According to OFTEC, there are more than 46,000 homes using heating oil in Suffolk, 73,000 in Norfolk and 31,000 in Essex.

Figures from the Government's SAP energy ratings show biofuels made from waste fats and oils have a lower carbon intensity with biodiesel made purely from vegetable oil emitting 0.018 kg CO2 per kWh, a 30% blend of biofuel emitting 0.220 kg CO2 per kWh and heating oil emitting 0.298 kg CO2 per kWh.

READ MORE: East Anglia has 'huge amounts to do' to adapt to climate change, warns outgoing Environment Agency director

Up-front costs

According to OFTEC's head of communications, Malcolm Farrow (pictured above), a big advantage of biofuel over other alternative low carbon technologies, such as air and ground source heat pumps, or biomass boilers, is there are lower up-front costs associated with it. He said: "Heat pumps are the most logical alternative to an oil heating system and the people involved in policy such the Government's Committee on Climate Change are recommending heat pumps.

OFTEC says householders who use heating oil will not have to change their appliance if they transition to a biofuel mix  Picture: Malcolm FarrowOFTEC says householders who use heating oil will not have to change their appliance if they transition to a biofuel mix Picture: Malcolm Farrow

"But heat pumps will involve a change of appliance - if we take an air source pump, which is the cheapest, that is going to cost people a minimum of £6,000 to £8,000.

Mr Farrow continued: "Heat pumps also tend to produce a lower temperature than oil heaters, so other changes around a home may have to take place such as the installation of bigger radiators and better insulation. Some of these are positive changes but you probably won't be able to get away with simply swapping one appliance for another.

"The big plus with moving to biofuel is that you are changing the fuel and not the appliance, at least initially."

Sustainability

Mr Farrow said he expected the first biofuel for home heating to hit the market would be a 30% blend and that over time people would move to 100% biofuel.

He added: "When you get up to the point where you are using higher blends of biofuel like 100%, then you may have to change appliance but it will take a while to get to that point and we think that can be accomplished over the natural churn of people replacing their boilers."

OFTEC, which represents oil heating appliance manufacturers and runs a competency scheme for installers, is awaiting a decision from Government on its policy for a road map away from high carbon fuels like kerosene towards low carbon fuels

Malcolm Farrow  Picture: James Fletcher PhotographyMalcolm Farrow Picture: James Fletcher Photography

In his Spring Statement earlier this year, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced that gas heating for new houses will be banned by 2025, but Farrow says an outright ban on oil heaters is unlikely, and that it is expected that homeowners will be obliged to use oil which has a level of biofuel in it.

Biofuels are not a new thing but in the past one of the main arguments against widespread adoption has been over their sustainability. Many first generation biofuels came directly from a crop, which was seen as displacing food production or involved deforestation.

Technical feasibility

"We feel strongly that biofuels are only going to be acceptable if they have the highest levels of sustainability built in, " continued Mr Farrow.

"This fundamentally means they are to be made from waste: waste oil from the food chain, waste fats or maybe crops and woodland residues after the they have been harvested. We hear about fatbergs blocking sewer systems and that's the thing we are interested in using to make fuel. There is huge amounts of FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Esters) already in use, blended into diesel.

He added: "OFTEC believes a 30% blend of biofuel with kerosene would be used initially. From that we would want to move people as quickly as possible to a 100% blend. The reason you wouldn't want to do that right away is that it is too difficult a step from a technical perspective and there wouldn't be the availability of fuel at first."

READ MORE: What steps can your business take to reduce its carbon footprint?

Trials

He said OFTEC is planning trials to ensure the technical feasibility of any transition and is working with players in the fuel supply chain, including The Federation of Petroleum Suppliers, as well as businesses upstream involved in blending and refining processes.

Mr Farrow said he expected blended fuels to be in people's homes by the mid-2020s and that a move to 100% biofuel could happen by 2040.

As for the cost of the new fuel, Mr Farrow added: "We have no idea what it will cost as yet - the price of kerosene changes and the price of FAME has been coming down in recent years.

"It is possible it might be a bit more expensive than the current fuel but we'd hope that it's a price people are willing to pay."

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