Cornwall leads the way in switch to green oil alternative

1st July 2022

Cornish oil supplier calls for greater government backing of fossil-free oil replacement as successful conversions grow and demand increases.

BBC Regional News Broadcast 28 June 2022

With local and national targets for net zero carbon emissions drawing ever nearer, Mitchell & Webber’s nationally leading demonstration of the effectiveness of hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) places pressure on the government to support the quickest and most accessible switch to a renewable, green fuel.

For the estimated 1.7 million homes in the UK using oil-fired heating systems, the combination of the uncertainty of oil supplies and the government’s plans to phase out many fossil-fuel powered heating systems within the next decade means the pressure is on to find and implement alternative fuel sources. Local oil supplier Mitchell & Webber is calling for the government to support an industry-funded national project that aims to demonstrate that HVO is a swift, cost-effective and sustainable alternative to oil.

HVO is made from certified waste fats and oils, does not contribute to deforestation, and has been confirmed as sustainable by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification. A simple, quick and cheap conversion to existing oil-fired boilers and systems means that millions of homes could reduce their net greenhouse gas CO2 emissions by 90% in comparison to oil.

With the UK government’s legally binding target of net-zero by 2050, and Cornwall Council’s own target of bringing the county to net-zero even earlier by 2030, Mitchell & Webber is calling on the government to support the initiative to convert oil-fired properties over to this greener fuel.

Mitchell & Webber is the first company in the country to begin trialing the renewable fossil-free fuel for heating. Since 2020, its team has converted over 50 oil-fired appliances to HVO – many in Kehelland, a small village in west Cornwall. Properties include domestic homes, businesses, schools and even the local church.

John Weedon, Director at Mitchell & Webber, said, “The owners of these types of buildings face particular challenges as they look to decarbonise their heating. With our HVO conversion, each home is estimated to save an average of around five metric tonnes of CO2 per home each year. If all of the estimated 40,000 oil-fired properties in Cornwall made the switch, that would be a huge help towards meeting Cornwall’s net-zero target of 2030. The potential impact of this nationally is enormous and we’re really excited to be pushing this innovative and accessible solution forward.”

David Biggs, a homeowner in Kehelland, said, “The speed and ease of the switch really surprised me – once we made the decision, it was a quick job for Mitchell & Webber’s technicians to convert our current boiler, remove the fossil heating oil and now my house is kept warm by this new renewable fuel that really works well.”

Mrs Ellie Watkins, headmistress at Kehelland School, said, “We wanted to sign up to the trial straight away, and the support we’ve had from Mitchell & Webber has been fantastic from beginning to end. Because the school is 130 years old, it isn’t as efficient as more modern buildings, and it simply wouldn’t have been possible to re-insulate it to the level needed in order for other solutions to work. However, with HVO we’re able to push ahead with decarbonising our heating as far as we possibly can.”

John continued “We’re delighted to have such great feedback from people in Kehelland. Not only is the switch simple, cost-effective, and immediately impactful, it’s suitable for any building that is currently using an oil-fired heating system. Many homes in Cornwall don’t have access to the gas grid, so oil-fired systems are very common here – and those homes need an accessible alternative solution as new government regulations come into place.”

The UK government is currently consulting on a range of policies and proposals that aim to bring the country to net-zero carbon emissions. The Future Homes Standard requires that no new-build homes will use gas boilers from 2025. The Heat and Buildings Strategy, which was published late last year, contains a proposal that will prevent homes currently using oil-fired systems from replacing them with fossil-fuel solutions from as early as 2026.

John added, “We are aware from our customers that rural properties often present particular challenges when owners are looking to move to other renewable heating systems; for instance, they can be expensive and disruptive to re-insulate to the required standard to make other heating solutions viable, and the characteristics of construction itself often make it extremely difficult or costly to convert to other technologies. We want customers to be able to keep their homes warm in the future, and we feel that placing the financial burden onto the consumer is unfair and unnecessary when the success of our trials over the last two years indicates that HVO has huge advantages over other heating systems for a wide range of properties.”

The national demonstration of HVO is being supported by leading industry bodies and organisations Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) and UK and Ireland Fuel Distributors Association (UKIFDA) as part of the Future Ready Fuel campaign.

Mr Weedon added, “Now more than ever before, the combination of world events and climate crisis is forcing governments and consumers towards oil alternatives. All our work since 2020 indicates that the government needs to take HVO seriously as a sustainable and practical solution for property owners who want to, or will eventually be forced to, move away from oil.”

Robert Weedon (Managing Director at Mitchell & Webber), confirms “What we’re witnessing is the evolution of the industry, and at Mitchell & Webber we recognise that finding alternatives to oil is the responsible option for now and for future generations. That’s why we’re calling for greater government support for this initiative, which we believe can help millions of people in the UK immediately and significantly reduce their carbon emissions.”

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