Heating with liquid fuels: what are our American neighbours doing?

Both the European Union and the United States of America are looking at a future where decarbonised heating is a reality and liquid fuels play their role.

European Union is aiming at climate neutrality, and this implies decarbonising heating. Of one the solutions on the table is electrification; yet, many understand that electrification is not the only solution, and is sometimes not an option. This is why Eurofuel, along with many partners, promotes another pathway for heating: energy efficiency (with condensing boilers), hybrid systems (which combine the best of different technologies), and low carbon and renewable liquid fuel, which will replace progressively fossil fuels. This pathway allows to improve the heating system without completely changing it, which is pragmatic and cost-efficient, as the alterations make it compatible with the new energy carrier. A win-win for both consumers and CO2 reduction.

The USA are experiencing similar trends: to reach atmospheric carbon emission targets, the Northeastern states’ strategic plans call for a conversion of transportation and heating to electricity. The liquid heating fuels industry requires a strategy of advancing renewable liquid heating fuels and challenging firmly held but false assumptions relative to the efficacy and cost of all-electric heating.

nora logo redrawnThe National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) is the US body which represents the liquid heating fuel sector; it focuses on professional education, energy efficiency & safety, and research. NORA is a trusted stakeholder in the USA and has worked extensively on the deployment of alternative liquid fuels for heating. Let’s see what they have done, and what Europe can learn from it.

NORA has primarily focused its work on the viability and utilization of biodiesel (FAME in the EU) in the fuel oil industry. The Alliance’s focus on Biodiesel/ Bioheat® has been a cooperative endeavor with the National Biodiesel Board (NBB). The organizations have worked on a number of key projects:

  • Fuel validation and utilization Research has been conducted with different blends (5% to 20%). The studies have not identified problems in the operations.
  • Fuel properties and characteristics: The Alliance and NBB have conducted a significant amount of outreach and education with fuel distributors, their employees, and fuel oil service professionals who are installing and assisting with the maintenance of fuel oil appliances in residential homes and light‐commercial facilities. There are ongoing initiatives, especially with blends over B20, to further study fuel properties and impacts as a complete understanding of fuel oil properties is essential for safety, soundness, and efficiency of its use.
  • Field testing: The Alliance and NBB have conducted follow‐on research of field results of using biodiesel blended with conventional heating oil. This has involved surveys of Bioheat® distributors, equipment analysis, and reviews of particular companies using biofuels.

 bioheat truck

They also worked on sustainability of the feedstock in the USA, which has dramatically increased over time.

What are the differences wit the EU?

In the EU, the regional differences (cultural, political, in terms of resources, etc.) mean that there are more variety when it comes to alternative liquid fuels: we are looking into FAME (the most recent example being France which will put on the market in July 2022 an “F30” blend), into HVO (at the beginning of 2021, Finland extended the bio mandate for renewable fuels, which aims at promoting the use of biofuel oil, to fuel oil), and into efuels for the future (in Austria, IWO, which is the association representing the liquid heating fuel, is working with AVL List GmbH on the revolutionary pilot project "Innovation Liquid Energy" for the construction of a power-to-liquid plant. This is Europe's most innovative plant with the aim of converting hydrogen in combination with a carbon source into climate-friendly, synthetic fuels and fuels.)

For more information about the different types of low carbon and renewable liquid fuels, please check our information sheet.

What are the similarities with the EU?

Both continents have a pragmatic and scientific approach:

  • A collaborative work with universities and/or manufacturers to ensure the compatibility between the liquid fuels and the boilers and their components. Eurofuel is working together with the European Heating Industry (EHI) on field test. More information: EU Field tests.
  • An affordable and reliable energy for consumers is at the heart of their concerns: the pragmatic vision (first energy efficiency, then introduction of low carbon and renewable liquid fuels) allows consumers to participate to the energy transition with minimal upfront-costs.
  • A focus on immediate benefits for the climate: low carbon and renewable liquid fuels offer an immediate solution to reduce CO2 emissions, without the need to modify the supply chains or the infrastructure.
  • The conviction that to achieve the targets set by decision-makers to reduce CO2 emissions, we need all the solutions available. Technology neutrality should be a guiding principle.