The future of fuel for critical power in SEA is hereBy Keith Khoo
For mission-critical power users, there is real pressure to reduce emissions from their diesel generators, while still making sure there is no reduction in reliability. The picture is different across Southeast Asia, with some governments legislating quicker than others and the adoption of alternatives likely to differ from region to region.
Governments, businesses and consumers mostly agree that we need to make substantial changes before it is too late.
Thankfully, this does not mean we need to rush to adopt temporary or inadequate technologies. Biofuels such as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) can provide an effective, low-emission alternative to diesel, right now.
With countries like Singapore aspiring to halve emissions from its peak to 33 MtCO2e by 2050, HVO can be a valuable part of the journey to net-zero.
What is HVO?
HVO is a drop-in renewable alternative to conventional diesel that is available today. It can be used in existing infrastructure, such as mission-critical generators, without any modifications, and reduces net CO2 emissions by up to 90%.
HVO is a superior, cleaner-burning fuel than traditional first-generation biofuels, which helps reduce emissions across its lifecycle. It is a high cetane fuel, with a cetane number of 70- 90 compared to conventional biodiesel's 50-65 and fossil diesel's 40-55. High cetane has advantages such as better combustion, better cold start, and reduced emissions levels. Cetane number is often seen as a measure of the quality or performance of diesel fuel: the higher the number, the better the fuel burns within the engine of mission-critical equipment such as generators.
HVO is also very stable, with no bacterial growth, meaning it can be kept for extended periods of up to ten years without any notable degradation. It is not prone to oxidation or water absorption, and it can perform in harsh conditions down to -32 degreesC. With a minimum flashpoint of 61 degrees C, it is safe to use in hotter climates.
The only performance downside to HVO is a slight reduction in power output due to lower volumetric mass. For mission-critical generator users, this does not result in less power electrical output, rather the fuel consumption will rise 3-5% to compensate for the difference in volumetric mass. Generator transient response time with the use of HVO is similar to performance with fossil diesel in operation.
At the moment, HVO is more expensive than fossil diesel. However, increased supply as new production plants come onstream is likely to help reduce the price of the fuel.
A plug-in solution
The production process of HVO means that the final product is similar in grade and quality to traditional diesel, so it can be used as a 'drop-in' for existing infrastructure, without modification or any need to buy new engines. It is entirely compatible with the standard mix of petroleum-derived diesel fuels, so it can also be blended with traditional diesel,
HVO is made from waste products and residues that don't impact agricultural land use, including vegetable oils, animal fats, and used cooking oils. According to the European Technology and Innovation Platform Bioenergy, the process is sufficiently flexible to convert a wide range of low-quality waste and residue materials to hydrocarbon-based drop-in fuels, making it a flexible diesel substitute for a broad range of diesel engine applications. HVO could also be made from photosynthetic organisms such as algae in the near-to-medium term.
It also plugs into a sustainable supply chain, with the use of waste feedstocks encouraging more local production than first-generation biofuels, which often rely on raw materials being shipped around the world. Multi-million-dollar investments are being made in the global supply chain, and fuel is becoming more readily available from multiple suppliers in China.
Organizations such as International Sustainability and Carbon Certification can also confirm authentication of feedstocks on a global scale, providing details of where fuel was made, its exact composition, and the amount of greenhouse gas emitted during its production and transportation - enabling businesses to measure and document their emissions reductions.
Reduced emissions, right now
The pressure to reduce emissions is necessary, but change doesn't need to come at the cost of reliability for mission-critical power. Choice is essential, to help the industry shift to more sustainable power solutions.
HVO’s compatibility with existing diesel engines for generators provides end-users with genuine operational flexibility without losing performance. It represents a simple and efficient solution that is available right now.