Ford Fuels Heating Oil for Homes

Government Biomass Strategy

The long-awaited biomass strategy has been published by the Government and can be found HERE.

The strategy acknowledges the need for renewable liquid fuels in off-grid heating. The current position seems to be moving from theory and strategy to political expediency.

Below you will find the most relevant bits of the strategy.

1. Best Use of Biomass
In the short-term government will continue to facilitate biomass deployment through a range of incentives and requirements covering power, heat and transport. In the medium-term government will look to further develop biomass uses in certain power, heat and transport sectors to support delivery of Carbon Budget 6, but with a view to transition away from unabated uses of biomass where possible to uses such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This will also include the production of biokerosene.

The biomass priority use principles address four main areas: sustainability, air quality, net zero and the circular economy & resource efficiency. Government will be launching a series of sector specific consultations in 2023 and 2024; these will support the implementation of these guiding principles, as relevant to different sectors in the economy.

The net zero principle also allows for the biomass to be prioritised where there are no other available alternatives for decarbonisation. This recognises the fact that there are areas of the economy that are hard to decarbonise e.g., transport modes such as aviation and maritime, and off gas grid properties.

2. Sustainability
Government will implement a cross-sectoral biomass sustainability framework, and intend to publish a consultation in 2024.

3. Air Quality
Government has committed to a literature review and consultation with experts on the air quality impact of new and emerging low carbon technologies, including bioenergy.

4. Modelling
The government has updated the UK and Global Bioenergy Resource Model, which will be published later this summer.

One main theme in the modelling results relates to the role of biomass in the production of biofuels such as biokerosene and biodiesel, particularly where carbon capture and storage (CCS) can be part of the production process. These are primarily allocated to hard-to-decarbonise modes of transport, e.g., aviation, which require fuels with high energy densities. A small proportion however could also be used in heating buildings that are not connected to the gas grid and are unsuitable for heat pumps or further electrification – this use is not fully captured in UK TIMES modelling yet.

5. Biomass used for heat in off grid homes

Biomass will likely have a role in heating in certain properties such as off-gas grid homes that are not readily suitable for heat pumps, and where appropriate mitigations can be set in place to minimise air quality impacts. The government is considering a range of options to decarbonise these types of properties.

Decarbonising Properties Off the Gas Grid

Government expects most properties will ultimately transition to a heat pump. Government modelling estimates that around 80% of off-gas-grid homes are already sufficiently well insulated for a low temperature heat pump to work effectively (which the industry disputes).

Government recognises that heat pumps will not work everywhere. A small number of off gas-grid properties are simply too poorly insulated or have certain characteristics that would make installing this technology unfeasible. Consistent with the principles of best use of biomass the Government expects any use of biomass to decarbonise heat off the gas grid would be focussed on those properties which are not readily suitable for electrification.

The Government is considering a range of options to decarbonise off-grid properties that are not readily suitable for electrification, including pairing energy efficiency measures and a low temperature heat pump, installing high temperature heat pumps, hybrid heat pump systems, solid biomass systems, and renewable liquid fuels.

The Government will assess the suitability of these options, considering the extent to which they are consistent with the priority use principles and also the extent to which they offer a positive experience for households.

It is not currently clear what volume of sustainable feedstocks would be available to produce these fuels, but the Government expects them to be limited in supply and in high demand from other sectors like transport.

However, the Government acknowledge that it has been working with representatives of the heating oil industry and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) industry to start building the evidence on the potential to scale up the production of renewable liquid fuels such as HVO and bioLPG, respectively, consistent with very low levels of carbon emissions for use in heat.

Use of HVO in heating

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) could prove a convenient route to decarbonising some off-grid properties – oil heated households would only need to make minor modifications to their existing oil boilers to use this fuel. However, HVO is not currently offered to heat customers on a commercial basis, and the government understands that the current cost of heating a property with HVO would be significantly more expensive than the cost of heating a property with kerosene.

When derived from waste feedstocks like used cooking oil, HVO can have considerably lower carbon emissions than the traditional fossil fuels currently used for heating off the gas grid. However, HVO derived from used cooking oil is likely to be in short supply and in high demand from other sectors such as transport due to its suitability as an aviation fuel. HVO derived from other feedstocks can be associated with much higher carbon emissions than fossil fuels.

Moreover, over-committing these scarce sustainable feedstocks risks shortages in sectors that need it most, or driving up the use of virgin feedstocks like palm oil, which can have much higher emissions, and which are associated with deforestation in other countries, to supply global HVO demand that cannot be met from wastes.

Policy plans, proposals, milestones

The use of sustainable biomass must be prioritised in sectors that offer the greatest opportunity to reduce emissions and where there are fewest options to decarbonise through alternative low carbon technologies For heat, this will mean focusing the use of renewable liquid fuels such as HVO or bioLPG towards those properties off the gas grid that cannot be readily decarbonised through electrification, subject to further work to establish confidence in the likely available supply of the sustainable feedstocks used to produce these fuels, and considerations around best use across other sectors, incorporating the priority use principles.

Following the publication of the Biomass Strategy, the government will continue to work with stakeholders to build the evidence base that will inform decisions later this decade on what role renewable liquid fuels could play in the future heating mix, especially where heat pumps cannot be used, and the policy framework which would support such a role. This work will consider the overall amount of sustainable feedstock available to the UK that could be used to produce renewable liquid fuels for heat and how this could be best used across the economy to achieve our net zero target.