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Concerns raised over fraudulent supplies of cooking oil used in transport fuel

Just weeks after everyone became excited by Virgin Atlantic sending an aircraft over the ocean using, for the first time, 100% sustainable aviation fuel, new analysis by Transport & Environment raises concerns about what Europe is actually getting when it imports such fuels.

Since the well-documented issues surrounding the use of palm oil as a biofuel emerged, Europe has been transitioning to waste products such as used cooking oil (UCO) and animal fats as their alternative to fossil fuels.

an airplane is flying low over the grass

Europe is now at the stage where 80% of the UCO used in zero emission transport is imported, with 60% of that coming from China.

The amount of UCO used in Europe has doubled over the last eight years, most of it being used on road transport but, as the aviation industry begins to show a thirst for it, demand will exceed supply more than ever.

The problem with these imports is knowing the exact provenance of the oils. The fact that they are ‘used’ is what allows them to be considered sustainable but because used oils are now more expensive than virgin oils, there is clearly an incentive for overseas suppliers to supply the latter, if they can get away with it – and it seems they can.

The T&E reports reveals that several EU states have begun to investigate the fraudulent supply of virgin palm oil and the European Commission said they would investigate the exact provenance of Indonesian biofuels that arrive in Europe via China and the UK.

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.’

The report recommends that the use of all crop-based biofuels be phased out by 2030 and that a limit be placed on the amount of UCO and animal fats that can be used in transport fuel.

They also suggest that road transport reduces its use of waste biofuels so the limited amount of at our disposal can be diverted to aviation where it is needed more. 

Barbara Smailagic again: ‘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.’

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