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Consumers in Europe and China have already blown through half their available feedstock of used cooking oil (UCO) biofuel, believes Transport & Environment, leaving scant prospect that further utilisation will achieve much in terms of decarbonisation.

The US has also already harnessed just over a third of its annual UCO yield as fuel.

And worse, the figures presented already include a proportion of biofuel feedstock made from virgin palm oil.

This fraction is grown on deforested palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia, imported to China and mixed with other UCO feedstock, laundering it as ‘used’ and ‘residual’ biofuel product: biodiesel or so-called sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

The amount of UCO available is naturally limited by the amount of cooking being done; but T&E notes that Malaysia appears to export three times as much UCO as it collects from restaurants and retailers. In China, “collection of UCO roughly matches official exports”, T&E notes, but China is “likely consuming significant volumes of UCO domestically, raising strong suspicions over virgin vegetable oil [such as palm oil] being mislabelled as waste oils”.

Anmd experts suggest China is not the only place where this happens, preventing accountability similar to the opaque electronics and textiles supply chains on which The Loadstar has reported in the past.

Noting his company’s shift this month toward a barely used form of biofuel, cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL), Daniel Gent, energy & sustainability manager at UECC, said: “You can have a biofuel that comes out of China, and the sustainability credentials of it could be extremely questionable. But that fuel can be shipped to another country, and then it can be re-exported as something like marine biofuel, marine biodiesel.

“[It is] incumbent on the shipping company to do due diligence.”

Meanwhile, in Europe, some 12% of cropland is still used to grow ‘type 1’ biofuels, competing with the available food supply and incurring the same emissions cost in terms of farming as the rest of agriculture. According to Greenpeace, just 23% of crops grown in the EU are ultimately used to feed people.

Opportunity Green CEO Aoife O’Leary told The Loadstar SAF was “a tremendous marketing coup” for airlines, adding it was “everything from dodgy palm oil and other deforestation-based fuel; you’ve got some used cooking oil in there, there’s a wide range”, but it was being “pitched as though it is one fuel.”

In response to this problem, the EC is making efforts to direct biofuel stocks away from the shipping industry and toward other sectors, like passenger transport and air cargo, noting in its documentation: “It is essential to minimise such a shift [toward maritime transport], as road transport currently remains by far the most-polluting transport sector, and maritime transport currently uses predominantly fuels of fossil origin.” 

T&E, meanwhile, hopes to dissuade European companies from importing UCO from Asia, by having “UCO imports from outside the EU no longer count towards renewable targets, thus eliminating a key incentive for their demand”.

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