09 Mar 2021

3 Myths About Future Fuels Busted

Hydrogen tank in front of solar panels and wind mills
 

Hydrogen, HVO or FAME- there are many low-emission alternatives to diesel. Some are already available; others are still in development. It isn’t easy to keep an overview of future fuels, and sometimes it is not easy to separate fact from fiction. Here we try to unpack some of the common misconceptions we see when it comes to future fuels.  

Myth #1 : Biofuels block up engines  

Biodiesel has a bad reputation for obstructing up gen sets. However, this isn’t strictly true. While some more traditional biofuels belonging to the FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) group do require some extra care around storage and operation (such as using different sorts of pumps and pipes as well as cleaning engines and tanks more often), any good supplier - like Aggreko - will ensure extra measures are put in place to prevent this.  

However, more recent biofuels, such as hydro-treated vegetable oils (HVO) consist of oil molecules split into three separate chains, creating hydrocarbons, which are similar to existing diesel fuel components. You are likely to see corresponding usage of these to diesel and ultimately - no obstruction. These types of biofuels can actually reduce engine wear, prolonging the engine’s life.

Myth #2: Green fuels are not as green as one would think

The myth here lies on the misconception that biofuels can only come from vegetable crops that may impact the food supply chain and encourage deforestation. 

These are legitimate concerns and the EU for example has responded by restricting the use of palm oil in biofuels from 2023. The case is different for soybeans, which is the primary crop feedstock for biofuels in the U.S Strong global growth in soybean demand is driven by primarily soybean protein use, and soybean oil can be seen as a convenient and thereby plentiful by-product. 
 
Overall it is fair to say that lot has happened in the past years. Today, the biofuels industry is required by law to ensure that the oil they use is verifiably sustainably produced, which means 100% certified and traceable, with a proactive approach to preventing deforestation and mitigating its risk. 
 
But what’s even more important: depending on the fuel type, approximately 80% of the raw material usage is waste and residues formed in industrial processes, such as waste animal fat or fatty acid distillates, which are vegetable oil processing residues. This is also true for HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) used today by Aggreko and we are committed to reach 100% by mid-decade.
 
On top of that, making sure that our fuels are truly sustainable is a top priority for Aggreko. Our suppliers accept only sustainably produced raw materials from carefully selected sources. All the products, and the raw materials we use in their production, must always meet the legal sustainability requirements set by local authorities in our markets.

Myth #3: Hydrogen is the silver bullet to achieve net zero

Hydrogen (H2) is a key future fuel. However, it isn’t actually a primary energy source. This means it must be manufactured using electricity - and how the electricity is produced has a large impact on its carbon footprint. 

Hydrogen produced from renewable sources like wind and solar generates zero carbon emissions and is extremely versatile. However, there is no proven - let alone a commercially viable - way to ship H2 yet. Also, storing it can get quite complex and inefficient. One way to tackle this challenge is to first turn it into a much more easily “storable” synthetic fuel - which can be used as a “drop-in alternative” in existing engines.

When a solution is found to make it a more stable fuel to transport and store, it could be the key to a future energy system.  As for now? Its main role is for shorter term or low energy projects. 

Read our latest perspective on Future Fuels