What is HVO? A beginner’s guide

Written by Will Goldsmith

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is one of a growing number of ‘biofuel’ alternatives to diesel on the UK market, but it is often confused with other fuels. Here is our simple guide to HVO, how it’s produced and what makes Prema HVO different.

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Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is one of a growing number of ‘biofuel’ alternatives to diesel on the UK market, but it is often confused with other fuels. Here is our simple guide to HVO, how it’s produced and what makes Prema HVO different.

Hvo fuel in truck
This guide explains

  • What feedstocks are used to make HVO
  • How it is produced
  • Why HVO is completely different to biodiesel

 


1# What is HVO?


Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil is one of several renewable biofuel alternatives to fossil fuel diesel that have emerged in recent years. Although ‘vegetable oil’ is in the name, it can be produced from a range of different vegetable and non-vegetable feedstocks, including:

  • Used vegetable cooking oil
  • Animal fat residue
  • Tall oil, a by-product of wood pulp manufacture

Non-food grade crop-based vegetable oils such as rapeseed, soy and palm.

Many of these oils can also be used to produce other renewable fuels like biodiesel, which can be found in regular diesel at the pump today. However, HVO is a fundamentally separate product that should never be confused with biodiesel. The key is the ‘H’ in HVO.

 


2# What do we mean by ‘hydrotreated’?


On their own, vegetable oils are not effective fuels. However, through a complex process known as hydrotreatment, we can turn the fats in these oils into hydrocarbons that are almost identical to conventional diesel.

In simple terms, hydrotreatment uses hydrogen to remove oxygen from the oil at high temperatures, splitting fat molecules (called ‘triglycerides’) into separate chains of hydrocarbon molecules. The result is an extremely pure, stable fuel comparable to fossil diesel in both form and performance, without the environmental drawbacks.

 


3# What about biodiesel?


Biodiesel (also known as FAME) is a cheaper, lower quality alternative. Although it is produced from vegetable oils and fats like HVO, the treatment process (called ‘transesterification’) is much simpler. The result is an ‘ester’ that is similar to fossil diesel, but prone to degradation and other performance issues.

In the UK, diesel producers are obligated to ensure a proportion of the fuel they supply comes from renewable sources. For this reason, regular diesel available at the pump currently has a FAME biodiesel content of up to 7% (hence the ‘B7’ stated on forecourt pumps). This is the cause of many common problems associated with diesel, such as a short shelf life, line and filter blockages and poor cold weather performance.

In contrast, the hydrotreatment process for HVO produces an ester-free liquid that has none of the associated performance issues. Its stability and quality also mean that, unlike biodiesel, HVO is 100% interchangeable with conventional diesel.

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4# Is HVO more sustainable than other diesel alternatives?


As we explain in a separate guide, burning HVO produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional diesel because the carbon emitted is cancelled out by the carbon pulled from the atmosphere when the feedstock was growing. It also produces fewer air pollutants than biodiesel.

However, HVO is only truly sustainable if it is produced from a waste-derived feedstock that doesn’t contribute to deforestation. Unlike other HVO products, Prema HVO is made with 100% used cooking oil and meets the highest level of sustainability certification available, so we can categorically state that it is the most sustainable HVO on the market.

 


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