While electric vehicles now seem to be the ultimate solution for road transport, a window remains open for the alternative of so-called sustainable fuels such as synthetic fuel and biodiesel.

Low carbon dioxide fuels derived not from oil, but from natural raw materials such as hydrogen and vegetables, could in fact represent a solution, even a transitional one, to reduce emissions, while saving internal combustion engines and solving the problem of range, which remains one of the weak points of the electric car.

Biodiesel versus battery

Research into zero-emission vehicles is advancing by leaps and bounds every day, but for the time being, being able to guarantee a car, or worse still a heavy vehicle, sufficient range over long distances means installing large, heavy and expensive batteries, with a supply chain that is certainly not 100% clean, given that metal extraction and battery manufacturing activities are still among the most polluting.

Biofuels are therefore not as disadvantaged as they may seem compared to pure electrics: while it is true that their combustion still produces exhaust gases, the supply chain for plant-based biofuels may be more virtuous than that for oil and batteries themselves, or better compensated.

Combustible HVO

HVO biodiesel supply station in Italy

Growing diffusion

Recently, many oil companies that converted into energy companies have started to invest not only in hydrogen, but also in biofuels. Some of them, including the giant ENI, are expanding the distribution of HVO biodiesel (made from vegetable oils) on European roads.

DKW Mobility, for example, recently announced that it has made HVO, blended with traditional diesel in varying percentages, available at some 650 stations across Europe for all vehicles, from passenger cars to vans and trucks, for which the manufacturer has certified compatibility.

Last summer, the Italian government also approved the tax equalisation of HVO biodiesel with diesel, allowing excise duties to be reimbursed in the same way and further promoting its proliferation.

Biocombustible HVO 2

An HVO biodiesel distributor

The advantages

The acronym HVO, which stands for "hydrogenated vegetable oil", indicates that it is a product made from palm or rapeseed oil, but also from used and recovered cooking oil.

Its carbon dioxide balance is calculated on the same basis as biomethane, i.e. taking into account that the basic raw material, plants, have absorbed a certain amount of CO2 during their lifetime and therefore, compared to fossil fuels, start with a negative greenhouse gas load.

According to this principle, a fleet running on biodiesel can record up to 90% lower CO2 emissions in the case of HVO100 compared to one using conventional diesel. 

In addition, according to the manufacturers, other combustion pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, are also much lower than those emitted by burning petroleum products.

Gallery: Eni's HVOlution