Scenarios for UK biofuel deployment

Posted Monday, 23 January 2012, 12:14

The UK Department for Transport has just released a set of reports by the consultancy AEA Technology assessing different scenarios for the UK to meet it’s biofuel use targets under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). The research is published at: http://www.dft.gov.uk/topics/sustainable/biofuels/research. Here, we summarise the synthesis report for the project, “Scenarios for the cost effective deployment of biofuel in the UK road transport sector in 2020”. 

This is the final report of a four-part series investigating the state of renewable road transport in the United Kingdom today and the potential to meet RED/FQD by 2020. This report finds that it will be possible to meet both directives through a combination of strategies, but there will be challenges in achieving this. Generally it is easier to meet the RED than the FQD. Several combinations of strategies are able to achieve a 5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (based on the LCA methodology defined by the RED/FQD), but not many can achieve or exceed a 6% reduction by 2020.

This report analyzed potential future availability of various biofuels in the UK through 2020, the likely availability of vehicles compatible with each biofuel type, and undertook a cost analysis of different options. Stakeholder feedback was taken into consideration.

FAME supply is expected to be limited over the coming decade, partly because as sustainability constraints kick in, certain pathways will not qualify. For this reason, choices must be made as to how to most effectively use the vegetable oil feedstocks available. The recommendations in this report are, in order of preference, [1] to increase the FAME content of standard fuel to B7, [2] to make HVO diesel because this is a drop-in fuel compatible with existing vehicles, and [3] to use any remaining FAME as B100 in depot-fueled vehicles.

The supply of bioethanol in the UK is expected to exceed demand; thus, this report identified strategies to increase the uptake of bioethanol in road transport. The recommendations are, in order of preference, [1] to use as much ETBE as possible, [2] to increase the bioethanol content of standard fuel to E10, and [3] to encourage the uptake of flex-fuel (E85-capable) vehicles.

The use of biomethane is expected to be constrained by the availability of compatible vehicles. Still, this report recommends that biomethane be considered as part of the strategy for meeting RED/FQD. The recommendations are, in order of preference, [1] encourage the uptake of depot-fueled dedicated biomethane vehicles in urban areas, and [2] encourage the uptake of depot-fueled dual fuel biomethane diesel vehicles for use on truck routes.

Any strategy for actually meeting both RED and FQD will require some combination of the above recommendations. Some cost-effective combination strategies were identified; according to AEA these would cost about £6 per GJ and £114-120 per tCO2e saved (the costs are quoted per GJ with reference to the RED, and per tCO2e with reference to the FQD).

Another strategy would be to reduce the carbon intensity of fossil fuels and/or biofuel production. This would contribute towards meeting the FQD but not the RED.

Key challenges and barriers include: people are generally not willing to pay more for cleaner fuels, vehicle makers need a long time horizon to develop vehicle types capable of running on different fuels and can deal better with large step changes in fuel mix rather than gradual changes, Europe needs a harmonized strategy across nations, and a biofuel distribution and supply infrastructure is also needed.

This assessment did not account for iLUC effects. The authors are aware that the European Commission may decide to include iLUC in future decisions, and that this would decrease the cost effectiveness of most biofuels (very severely for some biodiesel pathways in particular), reduce the contribution of most biofuels to the FQD, and cause some pathways considered in the scenarios to fail sustainability criteria.