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Plant oil and Biodiesel

Unmodified or "Straight" Vegetable Oil (SVO), sometimes also referred to as Pure Plant Oil (PPO) (the term used in the biofuels directive published by the European Commission is "pure vegetable oil from oil plants"), is unmodified vegetable oil such as rapeseed oil, mustard seed oil, sunflower seed oil, etc. In principle most oils available in the local supermarket could be used. SVO only gives optimal fuel performance in modified diesel engines.

Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO), basically consists of used oil discarded by the food industry (e.g. frying oil), which therefore requires a certain amount of filtering. Once cleaned it can be used in unmodified form as a fuel, or as a base for biodiesel.

Biodiesel is plant oil which has been chemically modified via a reaction with methanol (etherized) which produces a diesel-like product (biodiesel) with glycerine as a by-product. Biodiesel can be used in unmodified engines, usually blended with fossil diesel.

The consumption pathway is the same as that for ordinary diesel fuel, except for the need for engine modifications. The modifications cost around €1500 to €60005, depending on engine type, workshop, etc. and are as such a significant extra cost for the vehicle owner (some workshops offer a do-it-yourself kit and installation course at a somewhat lower price). In large-scale factory production the cost should be only slightly higher than a standard diesel engine due to the need for preheating equipment for the fuel (Ansø6 estimates an additional cost of less than €300). An engine modified to run on SVO can run on fossil diesel, as the general working of the engine is the same. It may be assumed, however, that the modifications made to injection nozzles, etc. will affect the combustion characteristics in such a way that it will no longer run optimally on fossil diesel. Fossil diesel therefore represents a stop-gap solution while driving in areas without access to SVO, but cannot be seen as a normal driving conditions for the vehicle.

SVO and biodiesel are used in the same way as normal fuel, although the modifications that need to be made to adapt a standard engine imply an additional cost

The German market for SVO solutions are by far the most developed with more than 95% of the SVO vehicle fleet in Europe registered in Germany. The reason for this is mainly a relatively small group of enthusiasts who have actively promoted the concept and developed the necessary engine modification kits, etc.

The distribution system for SVO is less developed than the system for fossil diesel. In the best developed market there are around 109 refuelling points, several of these however, with limited opening hours (e.g. tied to the opening hours of a workshop doing engine modifications). Additionally there is a network of suppliers selling SVO in bulk (e.g. 1000 litres) allowing users to have a large tank at home to fill up their vehicle from7.

At present SVO retails at 50-60 cent/litre in Germany, which is roughly 25% below the price for fossil diesel. For the consumer there is therefore an economic incentive to use SVO as long as energy taxes are not applied to it. The market price of SVO may, however, be expected to rise somewhat if consumption increases significantly. But in spite of the energy content per volume being around 8-10% below fossil diesel there is still an economic gain of around 15% at present.

Using SVO is today less convenient than using traditional products. It must therefore be assumed that conversion is attractive mainly for drivers:

  • who can benefit from lower prices of SVO via large driving need;
  • or who are "early adopters" of the technology for more idealistic reasons.

Given the more limited distribution infrastructure and the need for engine conversion, using SVO is today less convenient than traditional products. It is therefore likely to be attractive to drivers able to take advantage of lower prices or who adopt it for the environmental benefits

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