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BAM stands by HVO and blames the media for backlash

Bam has produced a position statement explaining why it remains committed to the use of HVO biodiesel, despite opposition from Balfour Beatty, VolkerWessels and within the Environment Agency.

Are we exacerbating one environmental challenge by solving another, or is HVO a no-brainer?Bam says that opposition to HVO is being stirred by “the mainstream media” simply seeking “attention”.

At the heart of the debate about biodiesel is the question of the sustainability of the palm oil that is used in hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). Bam says that is has been convinced by its suppliers that it is using only the good stuff, and not the bad. “Bam will continue use HVO fuels as part of its strategy for decarbonising its operations,” the company says.

However, there remain questions about how long supplies of used cooking oil (UCO) can keep up with growing demand for HVO from transport operators and construction companies. We may be assured by suppliers' certificates of provenance today, but for how much longer?

A 2020 report from the Environment Agency’s Defra Group Fleet Services warned: “The repurposing of a finite waste product does raise unavoidable issues around security of supply for this fuel. Increased popularity will make the product in its most sustainable form (100% repurposed waste material) increasingly difficult to obtain and would potentially see more of the product utilising virgin crops, such as palm oil, as a feedstock.”

The Environment Agency is now reviewing its position on HVO amid these concerns. Bam acknowledges the potential for deforestation resulting from HOV usage, but blames the media for overstating the risks and causing alarm. Its position paper states on page eight:

“Several studies have been undertaken which highlight a potential for biofuels to be linked to unsustainable biomass production associated with LUC (land use change). When these studies are picked up by the mainstream media, they provide an opportunity to spread controversy which is favourable for audience attention. Therefore, using biofuels could also be perceived in a negative way by society even if there is no or very little LUC impact.”

This is in stark contrast to the position of Balfour Beatty and Volker Wessels. Balfour Beatty says that it wants to be “sure that we are not solving one environmental challenge by creating another.”

VolkerWessels UK says it is “concerned about feedstock provenance, in particular with regard to palm oil”. Bam’s carbon reduction lead, Sarah Jolliffe, acknowledges that HVO should only be considered an interim fuel until HVO demand outstrips supply of used cooking oil and buyers know for certain that they are driving virgin palm oil harvesting.

“We are investing in low carbon technology such as using electrification and hydrogen generators. There are other tools in the box and making the switch to HVO doesn’t limit our ability to invest in these alternatives,” she said.

“Although using HVO fuels isn’t the long-term solution, it is the most effective intermediate means for our industry to move away from using more harmful fossil fuels. We see it as a transition fuel which is less environmentally damaging than continuing to use diesel.”

On the question of provenance – whether palm trees are being (or will be) chopped down to power Bam’s diggers – she said: “The existing and planned certification regimes give us confidence that there is a robust process to ensure that only waste UCO is used in the HVO we procure.

“What remains clear is that if one does not accept the use of HVO fuel, the only true alternative at present for many of the more energy intensive activities across the construction industry is by prolonging the use of more harmful fossil fuels. The eco-toxicity reduction alone is a good enough reason to opt for biofuels including HVO.

“HVO fuel reduces carbon emissions by upwards of 85% by comparison across scope 1 and scope 3 well-to-tank (WTT) emissions. The world has a climate emergency. Until cleaner forms or energy are more viable for use in our industry, we believe the use of HVO is the most favourable solution.”

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