Less ‘fatbergs’, more alternative fuels

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Waste-based alternative fuels have a role to play in the decarbonisation of the EU transport sector. [Kevin Dooley/Flickr]

This integrated approach to decarbonisation of the EU transportation policy will only be successful if it places the right incentives for the production of second generation, advanced alternative fuels, writes Angel Alvarez Alberdi.

Angel Alvarez Alberdi is secretary general of the European Waste-to-Advanced Biofuels Association (EWABA).

According to a recent article in the Financial Times, the company responsible for waste water treatment in London spends 1 million pounds a month (!) on fatberg removal. Fatbergs have been defined as “large conglomerations of fat, oil and grease” which accumulate in the sewer systems under our cities and eventually clog them.

Waste management companies throughout the EU have been increasingly reporting constant encounters with fatbergs over the past few years. Most of these companies are public or semi-public entities.

An extrapolation of the London figures gives a good indication of the amount of public money being spent in clearing fatbergs from urban sewers: dozens, if not hundreds of millions wasted every year.

Projected increases of urban population and changing eating patterns indicate that fatbergs are to become larger and more abundant.

For many years collectors of waste cooking oil, widely known as used cooking oil (UCO), have been providing a public service by ensuring the separate removal of used cooking oil from restaurants.

Private and public initiatives, mostly at municipal level, have been promoting collection of used cooking oil from households. Their work should be recognized and promoted by the public authorities.

The motto of the new EU paradigm the “Circular Economy” states that “waste is a resource”. Rightfully so. Used cooking oil is no exception, quite on the contrary, as it is the feedstock of one of the greenest existing alternative fuels, known as Used Cooking Oil Methyl Ester, or UCOME.

This alternative fuel has greenhouse gas savings of up to 90% when compared to fossil fuel. Being a waste, it does not compete with food or feed and produces no indirect land use change (ILUC) emissions. As such it is to be considered as a second generation or advanced biofuel.

The EU’s Energy and Climate energy Policy is at a crossroads following the COP 21 Agreement reached in Paris last December. In order to achieve its objectives (limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C) the EU will have to use all available sustainable tools to effectively reduce the carbon footprint of the EU economy.

Used cooking oil collection and its use for the production of alternative fuels necessarily have to play a role in this process.

The European Commission estimates that the EU transport sector produces nearly a fourth of the EU greenhouse gas savings emissions.

In order to tackle these figures, the Energy Union Strategy foresees a number of key legislative or policy instruments to be adopted within the next year, namely a Communication on the Decarbonisation of the EU transport Sector, a Renewable Energy Directive for 2030 (RED II), a Directive on the sustainability of bioenergy and a Communication on Waste to Energy.

This integrated approach to decarbonisation of the EU transportation policy will only be successful if it places the right incentives for the production of second generation, advanced alternative fuels.

In this context, a specific recognition of used cooking oil-based biodiesel as a highly sustainable alternative fuel in the Communication on Decarbonising the Transport Sector coupled with the introduction of right incentives for the production of used-cooking oil biodiesel in the upcoming Renewable Energy Directive for 2030, and the endorsement of used cooking oil collection practices in the Communication on Waste to Energy appear as the most suitable measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while liberating millions of euros currently being spent on waste management, literally eaten by the fatbergs silently growing beneath our feet.