What is Biofuel?

Biofuel is a renewable substitute for fossil fuel and is primarily derived from plant materials, for example oily crops for biodiesel and sugar-rich crops for bioethanol. Animal materials and other by-products such as tallow and municipal waste can also be used to produce biofuel. Even though biofuel can be used in isolation, more commonly it is blended with traditional fossil fuels, up to 5% in petrol and 7% in diesel. The top five suppliers of biofuel to the UK are domestic sources (333 million litres), France (293), US (140), Ukraine (137) and Spain (132), making up 60% of total sustainable supply.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Biofuels

The main advantage of biofuel is the positive effect it has on the environment. Compared to the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by fossil fuels, the plant crops used to grow ‘first generation’ biofuel actually help to remove CO2 from the earth’s atmosphere. It is important to note that this net benefit depends on how much energy was used in the production of the fuel, for example, fertilisers, farming, transport, and manufacturing.

As ‘first generation’ biofuels were derived predominantly from plant crops, there were concerns as to the amount of agricultural land used to keep up with demand. In response, ‘advanced’ biofuels are now produced and manufactured from non-edible sources like agricultural waste, and their properties are also closer to conventional petrol and diesel. A number of factories have been built to manufacture ‘advanced’ biofuels, but it will be some time before they can be produced on an industrial scale.

Even though biofuel standards are maintained by the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, if inferior fuel is used, the effects can be detrimental to vehicles. For example, in 2013 RAC breakdown cover found diesel fuel filters were becoming blocked, starving the engine of fuel, resulting in engine failure. RAC Patrols also found that in very cold weather drivers discovered their diesel was ‘waxing’. However, unlike traditional ‘waxing’, when the weather warmed up the gel did not dissolve back into the fuel, resulting in new filters having to be bought.

Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation

The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) was created to support the government’s aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, by encouraging biofuels that don’t harm the environment. Suppliers of fossil and biofuel who supply at least 450,000 litres of fuel a year must sign up to the RTFO. Under this agreement, suppliers of transport and non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) fuel in the UK must be able to show that a percentage of the fuel they supply comes from renewable and sustainable sources.

RTFC’s carbon and sustainability characteristics issued to biofuels:

  • Cooking oil is the most widely reported source for biodiesel in the UK (142 million litres, 8% of total fuel, 16% of biodiesel).
  • Corn is the most widely reported source for bioethanol in the Ukraine (135 million litres, 8% of total fuel, 16% of bioethanol)
  • 46% of fuel was made from a waste/non-agricultural residue (double counting) feedstock
  • UK feed stocks produced 19% of biofuel
  • 99% of the fuel was sourced from a voluntary scheme
  • The most commonly used voluntary scheme without a second scheme listed was ISCC at 86% of fuel (including a second scheme raises this to 89%).

EU Renewable Energy Directive and Fuel Quality Directive

Both the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) include mandatory requirements for carbon and sustainability that need to be met if biofuel is to count towards European targets.

RED and FQD sustainability requirements are that:

  • Biofuels must achieve at least a 35% GHG emissions saving (this threshold will rise over time);
  • Biofuels may not be made from raw material obtained from land with high biodiversity value in or after January 2008.
  • Biofuels may not be made from raw material obtained from land with high carbon stock such as forests or land that was undrained peat land in January 2008 unless strict criteria are met.

Breakdown Cover from just £4.50 a month

  • Our patrols fix 4 out of 5 vehicles at the roadside in just 30 minutes on average
  • As Britain’s most experienced provider we've been championing motorists for 120 years
  • 92% of our members would recommend RAC breakdown cover to their friends and family