Much of the allegedly “used” cooking oil being imported for SAF likely to be fraudulent

Analysis – by T&E – of latest biofuels data shows worrying rise in dubious “used cooking oil” imports as airlines increasingly try to promote biofuels as low carbon flying. The new report shows Europe currently imports 80% of the used cooking oil that it uses as fuel for cars, trucks and planes. About 60% of these imports come from China. With the global airline industry pushing for used cooking oil as a key ingredient in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), T&E has called for greater transparency to avoid used cooking oil (UCO) becoming a backdoor for palm oil. Europe does not produce anything like as much UCO as it wants to use. The push to import oils, with much of the allegedly “used” oil being dodgy, is set to grow as airlines push for more UCO as a key ingredient in SAF.  European governments say it’s almost impossible to stop virgin oils like palm being labelled as “waste”. There are also palm oil derivatives such as Palm Oil Mill Effluents (POME) and Palm Fatty Acid Distillate (PFAD). These are not waste, but by-products of the palm oil refining process, linked to significant environmental damage and ILUC. 
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80% of Europe’s ‘used’ cooking oil now imported raising concerns over fraud – study

DECEMBER 14, 2023

Transport and Environment  (T&E)

Analysis of latest biofuels data shows worrying rise in dubious used cooking oil imports as airlines increasingly promote biofuels as solution for cleaner flying

Download the report 

Europe currently imports four-fifths (80%) of the used cooking oil that it uses as fuel for cars, trucks and planes, new Transport & Environment (T&E) analysis of latest biofuels data shows. The vast majority (60%) of these imports come from China. With the global airline industry pushing for used cooking oil as a key ingredient in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), T&E has called for greater transparency to avoid used cooking oil (UCO) becoming a backdoor for palm oil.

Europe’s consumption of used cooking oil more than doubled between 2015 and 2022, with most of it going in the continent’s cars and trucks in the form of biodiesel. But with local UCO supplies limited by both the capacity of local authorities to collect it and how much used cooking oil Europeans can produce, the continent now relies overwhelmingly on imports for its supply. This is set to grow as airlines push for more UCO as a key ingredient in SAF. Last month, Virgin Atlantic launched the ‘world’s first 100% SAF transatlantic flight’.

High demand for UCO has raised the risk of fraud, where virgin oils like palm are suspected of being mislabelled as ‘used’ to take advantage of the inflated value of supposedly green fuels. Several countries, including Germany and Ireland, are launching their own official investigations into fraud risks. The European Commission also promised to investigate fraudulent Indonesian biodiesel potentially transiting through China and the United Kingdom to circumvent taxes.

 

Barbara Smailagic, biofuels expert at T&E, said: “Europe is being flooded with dodgy used cooking oil. European governments say it’s almost impossible to stop virgin oils like palm being labelled as waste. We need greater transparency and a limit on imports to avoid UCO simply becoming a backdoor for deforestation-driving palm oil.”

China is by a long way the continent’s largest supplier of UCO accounting for 60% of imports and 40% of Europe’s total UCO supply. Spain and Italy are particularly reliant on Chinese UCO, while 96% of Bulgaria’s UCO imports come from China.

Palm substitutes

The data also shows that in 2022, palm oil biodiesel dropped by almost 30% following a phase-out in several countries, compared to the year before.

At the same time, Europe saw a significant uptake in palm oil derivatives such as Palm Oil Mill Effluents (POME) and Palm Fatty Acid Distillate (PFAD), which cancelled out nearly half of the decrease in palm oil between 2020 and 2022. Incorrectly labelled as “waste” or “residues” in some countries, PFADs are by-products of the palm oil refining process. They are linked to significant environmental impacts and indirect land use change as is the case for conventional palm oil.

Barbara Smailagic said: “Europe never tires of finding new things to burn. Before it was palm oil, now it’s so-called palm residues. Sustainable biofuel feedstocks are extremely limited. We need to stop seeing biofuels as a panacea for our climate problem. We need to move beyond burning.”

Despite a shift towards second generation biofuels like UCO and animal fats, biodiesel remains on average nearly 20% worse than traditional diesel, T&E’s analysis shows. Nevertheless, it is still rewarded under the EU’s green fuels law – the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

Unlike biodiesel, the share of crop-based bioethanol declined only slightly over the past decade falling from 95% in 2010 to 85% in 2022. Corn remains the most dominant feedstock, followed by wheat and sugar beet. Using these crops in biofuels puts pressure on the environment and global food prices, says T&E.

https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/80-of-europes-used-cooking-oil-now-imported-raising-concerns-over-fraud-study/

80% of Europe’s ‘used’ cooking oil now imported raising concerns over fraud – study

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See earlier:

 

Used cooking oil imports for use as biodiesel may, in fact, fuel palm oil deforestation

It had been assumed and hoped that used cooking oil (UCO) might be a genuinely low carbon fuel, causing a lot less environmental damage that other liquid fuels. Because UCO is classed as a waste product within the EU, UK fuel producers are given double carbon credits for using it in their fuels. This has sparked a boom in demand for used cooking oil that is so great it is being met in part with imports from Asia.  A new NNFCC study found that in fact  rising demand is increasing deforestation, for more palm oil plantations. The price they can get selling used cooking oil to makers of biodiesel is far higher than the price of new palm oil – so they pocket the difference. This provides the perverse incentive to make money by selling more used oil, just replacing it with (cheap) palm oil. Between 2011 and 2016 there was a 360% increase in use of used cooking oil as the basis for biodiesel. The available evidence indicates that palm oil imports into China are increasing, in line with their increasing exports of used cooking oils. The NNFCC authors want the government to review the practice and perhaps end the EU’s double credit for imported oil.   

https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2019/07/used-cooking-oil-imports-for-use-as-biodiesel-may-in-fact-fuel-palm-oil-deforestation/

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KLM and SkyNRG to open factory to produce “low carbon” jet fuel, mainly from “wastes” (like used cooking oil)

Airlines are desperate to find some form of fuel that they can claim is “low carbon” and that does not have obviously negative environmental and social impacts. Finding these miracle fuels is the only way the industry could continue its rapid growth in fuel burn, for decades to come – in the face of the global climate emergency. Dutch airline KLM is keen to get “sustainable” aviation fuel (SAF), working with SkyNRG. They are hoping to use “regional waste and residue streams such as used cooking oil, coming predominantly from regional industries” as feedstock. A plant is being built, to be opened in 2022, making this fuel.  KLM says:  “From 2022, the plant will annually produce 100,000 tonnes of SAF …. It will mean a CO2 reduction of 270,000 tonnes a year for the aviation industry.”  That number all depends on how it is measured – they are regarding this fuel as causing the emission of at least 85% less CO2 than conventional kerosene. (Is that realistic?) KLM says: “There will be absolutely no use of food crops, such as soya oil and palm oil (or by-products such as PFAD and POME), for production.” Biofuelwatch has calculated that using all tallow worldwide for biofuels could only supply 1.7% of global aviation fuel burned in 2016. Converting all Used Cooking Oil that can be realistically collected in the EU and USA would meet just 0.16% of US aviation fuel and 0,26% of EU aviation fuel use respectively. 

https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2019/05/klm-and-skynrg-to-open-factory-to-produce-low-carbon-jet-fuel-mainly-from-wastes/