Last October, the government published its Heat and Buildings Strategy, which placed significant emphasis on air source heat pumps to help the UK achieve its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reach the target of net-zero by 2050. 

It is a known fact that heating homes and other buildings produces a large proportion of emissions, so if these greenhouse gas levels are to be reduced, our heating systems will need to change with less reliance placed on fossil fuels. The Heat and Buildings Strategy therefore details how the government wants all buildings to decarbonise the energy they use as well improve their fabric’s efficiency. 

Heat pumps are, rightly, a huge part of the changes ahead. A new government funding programme is opening to help homeowners make the switch from a fossil fuel boiler to a heat pump. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) will open to applicants who can claim £5,000 towards the installation of an air source heat pump to replace their existing boiler. This is in addition to the recent abolition of the VAT on heat pumps and PV, announced by the Chancellor.

The BUS will be open to applicants in England and Wales, and aims to encourage more demand for renewable technology, especially in light of rising energy prices. Grants will be available to domestic and non-domestic buildings, supporting systems up to a capacity of 45kWth and, while social housing and newbuilds will not be eligible, domestic and custom new/selfbuilds will be able to apply. 

However, the government’s strategy is missing the potential benefits biofuels could bring to off-gas areas. In these locations, older homes can be difficult to insulate and may not be suitable for a heat pump installation without a significant financial investment. This is in addition to the potential to change out over 700,000 older, non-condensing boilers that could have system efficiencies below 60%.

As industry body OFTEC points out, the liquid fuel heating industry is currently trialling a new fossil-free alternative to heating oil called Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) that cuts emissions by 88%. The renewable liquid fuel works well in existing oil-heating systems following a simple, cost effective conversion process. OFTEC also believes renewable liquid fuels offer a cheaper and less disruptive alternative to heat pumps for the 1.5 million oil-heated homes in the UK, and is demonstrating the potential of HVO in over 100 homes.

Oil boilers can undergo a simple and cost effective conversion that enables them to operate efficiently on HVO. When HVO supplies become available to a property, only a few minor modifications need to be made to the boiler, swapping it from kerosene oil to HVO. 

These modifications include adapting the size of the fuel injector nozzle, fuel pump pressure, and blast tube, all of which can be carried out by the service engineer during an annual service, making life simple for homeowners and for heating engineers. Some older condensing boilers may also be adapted to HVO, but this may require a new biofuel burner matched with the specific boiler. Again, this can be carried out by a service technician during an annual service. 

So, why are biofuels not currently part of the government’s strategy? As OFTEC’s and UKIFDA’s campaign, ‘Future Ready Fuels,’ points out, renewable liquid fuel is a globally produced and traded commodity, but palm oil, which environmentally problematic, currently still features in the supply chain. 

But progress is being made and the development of stringent environmental and sustainability standards means the amount of palm oil used has diminished dramatically. A leading HVO producer has stated that palm feedstock accounts for only 5% of the HVO produced, and none of this product is used in the UK or Europe. 
In addition, it’s worth pointing out that the HVO used in the UK trials has been certified palm-free by the government.

With these considerations in mind, perhaps it is time for a review on the policy, to bring HVO into the overall government strategy. 

For many homeowners in off-gas areas, adopting HVO could transform their levels of carbon emissions and keep their fuel costs at a reasonable level – and it can all be done quickly, simply, and cost effectively.