30 October 2021

As COP26 begins in Glasgow, we are celebrating the success of our recent trial of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) in boats. A cross-section of the existing fleet on the inland waterways network have been using the fuel for propulsion, domestic use and heating. These boats include those with relatively modern diesel engines as well as older, more traditional engines and even a few historic boats.

HVO Trial in boats

This trial, sponsored by Crown Oils, has come about thanks to our IWA Sustainable Boating Group which was set up to explore ways of ensuring that the inland waterways meet the Government’s target of zero carbon emissions by 2050.

There are over 80,000 powered craft on the network. We are well aware that a viable alternative to diesel fuel needs to be found to reach net zero targets. HVO is a second generation biofuel which appears to have all of the necessary requirements going for it.

For example:

  • it mixes well with other diesel fuels
  • is already approved by most engine manufacturers
  • has none of the diesel bug issues that have plagued first-generation biodiesel
  • is stable when stored
  • remains free flowing to -25°C
  • brings a 10% drop in fuel consumption

The feedback from IWA members who are trialling this new fuel has been overwhelmingly positive. HVO is indeed a viable alternative to diesel fuel. It is also a straight drop-in replacement compatible with fuel that is already in a boat’s tank.

HVO is 90%+ carbon neutral

As well as being 90%+ carbon neutral, there is no need to change the boat’s means of propulsion or to modify the existing engine in any way. This means there is no requirement for an engine upgrade or any kind of trade-in. So, all diesel engines powering today’s inland waterways craft can easily become nearly carbon neutral overnight, simply by changing their fuel to HVO.

Domestic use and Heating

This is all very well and good for propulsion but what about domestic use such as cooking and heating? In these trials, boaters discovered that diesel-fuelled domestic devices were happy to operate on HVO. Specifically, they reported a cleaner burn with reduced fumes and smoke and less cleaning required. The lack of smoke has been a commonly noted benefit as well as quieter engine noise.

So what is the catch?

So what is the catch? At this time, the two main issues with HVO are a lack of availability and taxation issues affecting the price. The first of these will hopefully be resolved as demand increases. Once the market has been established, supply will inevitably increase and in turn, the price may drop. However, we will call on the Government to introduce tax cuts on HVO to make it more affordable, whilst appealing for boaters to switch their fuel source.

Additionally, HVO, like all biodiesels, is manufactured from vegetable oils. Currently, the HVO being supplied to the inland waterways is manufactured exclusively from waste and recycled oils. This means that it does not adversely affect the world supply of food and food oils. However, we recognise that as demand increases there is a risk that this will change and so we will work to ensure that it doesn’t.

Fortunately, the use of diesel on the inland waterways is relatively small and is likely to decrease as boats move to electric drive.

Protecting the unique waterways environment

Jonathan Mosse who leads on alternative fuels for the IWA Sustainable Boating Group says, “While we all agree that electric drives in one form or another are most certainly the future for inland waterway craft, these are still a long way off for most of the existing fleet. For the foreseeable future, the reality is that the vast majority of engines and generators will still be diesel-powered. We need to urgently find a way to change to a more sustainable fuel for our boats. This is something that not only reduces carbon emissions but also protects the unique waterways environment. We believe we have found the answer in HVO and the time to change is now.”

Bowman Bradley, Chair of the Group, adds “We are pleased that a small number of fuel suppliers are now stocking HVO. We are encouraging more boatyards and marinas to do so. Individual boat owners can assist this more widespread supply by requesting HVO wherever they fill up.”

Get IWA’s Green Boating Guide or read the Vision for Sustainable Propulsion.

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