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Biofuels for greener boating

With about 80,000 diesel-powered boats on the inland waterways, the best way to make boating greener now is to replace fossil diesel fuel with a biofuel.

Biofuels for boats

The first generation of biodiesel suffered from problems such as diesel bug and blocked fuel systems. However, second generation biofuel has none of these problems and is more than 90% carbon neutral.  When ‘green’ hydrogen becomes available, this will rise to virtually 100%.  As such, it looks like it will be the drop-in replacement fuel for those keen to run their existing diesel engines into a zero carbon future.

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is a second generation biofuel that is gradually becoming readily available for regular commercial marine use.  Whilst it is currently still a more expensive fuel option, IWA is campaigning for tax cuts to reduce the cost of HVO for boaters.

What is HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil)?

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is a second generation biofuel.  It is made by converting waste vegetable oils and animal fats into diesel fuel using hydrogen.


  • is made from waste oils (and not directly produced on land otherwise that would otherwise be used for growing food)
  • mixes with all other diesel fuels and has full approval from current engine manufacturers
  • does not attract water or promote the development and growth of diesel bug
  • is completely stable when stored (up to 10 years)
  • remains free-flowing down to at least -25℃
  • produces less air pollution than mineral diesel
  • can give up to a 10% reduction in fuel consumption

Read our biofuels FAQs

Biofuels FAQs

Can you mix HVO and mineral diesel in the boat tank?

Yes. HVO is 100% miscible so can be added and mixed in any proportions.

How can a boat be heated in a more sustainable way?

In an existing boat the best option, at least in theory, is to burn wood from renewable sources.  After that comes burning oil or gas in purpose-designed appliances with a likely 70% efficiency.  Direct electric heating from a generator will only be about 30% efficient, as that is all the generator is likely to achieve.

In a new build there is the option of installing a water-source heat pump.  The efficiency of the heat pump is likely to exceed 300%, meaning that, even using power from a 30% efficient generator, more heat will be produced than the calorific value of the original fuel.  If a suitable fuel cell can be sourced, then the sky’s the limit!

Are there any targets for banning diesel powered boats?

As far as we are aware, the same rules will apply as the to the road sector.  Existing diesel boats will not be banned but building new ones will.  The date is, we believe, 2030 and 2035 for hybrids.

What is the extra cost of all this technology? Will it cause boating to be unaffordable for many and see a reduction in numbers of boats on the system?

At the moment, cost is a significant issue. An electric-drive package from a single supplier being likely to cost about £40k.  This can be reduced significantly by mixing and matching products from different manufacturers and particularly by buying components not marked ‘marine’ wherever possible.  For example, an 8 kVA marine generator costs about £15k, while an equivalent industrial one can be bought for £5k. It will need extra soundproofing but not £10k worth!  To set against that, a well-designed, generator-based, electric drive system will use only 30 to 40% as much diesel as will a diesel propulsion engine, an ongoing saving of £150+ per annum.

Looking further ahead there seem to be two, potentially cheaper, scenarios:
1. If or when battery technology improves to the point where charging from a shore-line becomes viable, the generator can be eliminated completely, and
2. Significant cost savings seem likely if or when fuel cells become available.  It has been suggested that the cells themselves will cost less than generators and, because the batteries will only need to do a buffering job, they can be considerably smaller.  Unfortunately, attempts to acquire a suitable fuel cell for evaluation have so far drawn a blank. A slight red herring is that the heat from a fuel cell will probably provide all the heating for a narrowboat for 8 or 9 months of the year, representing a further useful saving.

Who supplies HVO for the inland waterways?
  • Crown Oils will sell direct to the public in quantities as small as 205 litre drums and 1000 litre IBC. Crown Oils provide a country-wide link up with a range of small, private fuel distributors, as with all bulk fuel deliveries the minimum quantity is 500 litres. In London and the Home Counties they also operate as Speedy Fuels and in the Midlands as Beesley Fuels.
  • New Era (who operate as GBF Ltd). Quantities from 20 litres to 1000 IBCs to bulk.
  • Green D+ HVO Fuel Box – 20 litre boxes: Orion Air Sales.
  • North Kilworth Marina
  • Rose Narrowboats, Brinklow
  • Stonebridge Lock, River Lee – Lee Wilshire – 07970 704532

Information for boatyards: Crown Oils are offering to put a separate tank in free of charge for a trial period where a marina or boatyard, etc wishes to trial HVO.  They have self-contained, ready-to-go units that can be just dropped into place.  Anyone wishing to follow up on this should contact Ryan Abreu at Crown Oils on 07585 792918.

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