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Fuels for now

Rebecca Swann, Product Manager for Fuels and Services at Certas Energy, explores the liquid energy mix for the public sector.


Government, industry and the wider supply chain remain resolute in the quest to make a positive impact on the ongoing air quality problem. While technologies do exist to make an immediate difference to emissions, it must be acknowledged that low levels of uptake are first and foremost a commercial (not necessarily a technical) challenge.

Here liquid fuels can bridge the gap for those in public sector construction, logistics and landscaping looking to make an immediate impact on emissions. Readily available with established infrastructure and security of supply, alternative liquid fuels must play a part in kick-starting the sector on the path towards a zero-emission end-point.

So why should liquid fuels be part of the transition to cleaner air? What does the current liquid fuel mix look like? And how can they support the public sector on the journey to a zero-emission future?

Under pressure

When it comes to lowering emissions, public sector has set the bar high for change. Thanks to broad adoption of alternative technologies, the public sector is now only responsible for less than 2% of total UK GHG emissions.

But with news stories on local air pollution crowding the headlines, pressure is mounting to move towards an even cleaner way of working. Whether for grounds maintenance, logistics or construction, the reality is that public sector buildings rely on heavy duty diesel engines both for development and continued maintenance. The appetite for alternative technologies in reducing carbon emissions must also extend to improving air quality to protect public health.

And with businesses and consumers alike looking to local councils for leadership, all eyes are on the public sector to take action.

What’s holding back adoption of diesel alternatives?

It is an uncomfortable truth that there is no single energy solution to the air quality problem. The heavy duty cycles of HGVs, construction and grounds maintenance machinery mean that liquid fuels will still be required well into the future.

A lack of infrastructure means that the public sector must be realistic when evaluating how they can most effectively power the transition to lower emissions – especially when it comes to electrification.

The good news is that liquid fuel technologies do exist to reduce emissions of air pollutants and improve local air quality immediately – without requiring investment in new machinery or retrofitting existing equipment.

However, without an incentive to change fuels, and while the tax rebate on red diesel remains so attractive, the case for investing in the majority of alternative fuels is a difficult one to build. And with no clear short or mid-term directive from the Government when it comes to alternatives to diesel, it’s little wonder there’s a confused transitional landscape.

As much as this is a challenge, it is also a huge opportunity for wider uptake of alternative liquid fuels to have an immediate and tangible impact on air quality. These readily-available ‘fuels for now’ are key to kick-starting the journey to low emissions, offering a technically and commercially-sound stop-gap while paving the way for longer term developments.

Making the case for alternative liquid fuels

There are many liquid fuel technologies that are already being tested and trialled. These include Gas To Liquid (GTL), power to liquid, biomass to liquid, hydrothermal liquefaction and hydro-treated biofuel products. However, many of these technologies and developments remain unproven.

In the case of GTL, part of the paraffinic family of fuels, the benefits have been proven. This particular formulation is based on gasification chemistry and can achieve similar performance levels to diesel while reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM) and carbon monoxide. With noted benefits including high energy density, ease of use and safe handling – supported by security of supply and approvals from many OEMs – GTL delivers an exceptionally strong value proposition.

Contained within the EN15940 category, paraffinic fuels are particularly well-suited alternatives for NRMMs and HGVs. This suite of products could also prove to be more effective than other alternatives, with drop-in technologies such as GTL requiring no modifications to machinery or investments in equipment upgrades.

Furthermore, the infrastructure for liquid fuels is well-established; its supply chain can be commoditised and developed (with the potential to be low cost) and, as such, this energy category represents the most robust and reliable transformation path – at least in the short term.

Alternative fuels in action

Already adopted throughout Europe, GTL is one of the few available paraffinic fuels in the UK – helping its early adopters transition to a cleaner fuel future. In an endorsement for alternative liquid fuels, Crown Commercial Services has added GTL specification to its framework – opening the door for wider adoption in the public sector.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is one of the local authorities that has demonstrated its commitment to cleaner air by transitioning its grounds maintenance fleet from diesel to cleaner-burning Shell GTL Fuel, supplied exclusively in the UK by Certas Energy.

Alongside reduced levels of NOx and PM, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council experienced a range of additional performance and efficiency benefits by changing fuel. GTL has improved the uptime of the council’s plant machinery, extended periods between refuelling, eliminated exhaust odours and reduced operational noise levels for the benefit of site neighbours.

Operating in public and environmentally sensitive areas, safety was also a key priority for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council. As a non-toxic and readily-biodegradable fuel, Shell GTL Fuel is less harmful to the environment and safer for the workforce than conventional diesel.

A clean air future

A broad mix of energy sources will surely enable the most cost-effective and robust transformation path to a low-emission future. The fact that the infrastructure and supply chain is strongly in place for liquid fuels means they can immediately fuel the transition for the public sector.

It’s possible that the quick wins offered by alternative liquid fuels are being overlooked because of an over-emphasis on the zero-emission end goal. Naturally, that is where we all want to be. However, without embracing evolving enhancements in fuel technology, the truth is it will take us much longer to get there.

The transition to cleaner air and lower emissions is a pathway, and everyone should look to make a step in the right direction. There is no silver bullet solution, but rather a variety of fuels that can help the public sector make an immediate difference today as part of the longer-term transformation route to net-zero.

To discover the readily-available ‘fuels for now’ that can kick-start the transition to a low-emission future, download the first report in Certas Energy’s New Energy Reality Series – The Future of Liquid Fuels – for free.

Contact Certasenergy

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