A long way for biofuels in Switzerland

In Switzerland, oil heating plays an important role. An estimated 750,000 houses are heated with oil, which accounts for about 40%.

Another 20% of the houses are heated with natural gas, and the rest with wood, heat pumps or district heating. Switzerland also has the goal of making the heating sector climate neutral by 2050. However, the replacement of oil heating by heat pumps or district heating is hardly feasible in remote alpine valleys. Therefore, liquid energy sources such as biodiesel or e-fuels are the only realistic alternative to fossil fuel oil in these cases. Therefore, it would be expected that the use of biodiesel would be strongly promoted in Switzerland, but unfortunately there is still a long way to go.


Laws, regulations and certificates

In 2021, the proposal for a revised national C02 Law was rejected by the Swiss electorate. This law would have required very strict limits for the heating sector, which would have been equivalent to a ban on oil heating. A new proposal for the law is now being worked on, which will probably not come into force until 2025. Since there will be no national law regulating the heating sector until then, the local energy laws of the 26 Swiss cantons will take over. This means that each region will determine for itself whether oil and gas heating systems are still permitted in new buildings, or whether they may be replaced in existing buildings.

In some cantons there are still no restrictions on the choice of heating system. In others, however, it is already forbidden to install an oil heating system or to replace an existing oil heating system with an oil burner. Most cantons, however, set a minimum standard for building insulation or a minimum share of renewable energy in heat generation in their conditions. In this context, some of the energy laws would recognize biodiesel as a way to meet this minimum share of 10 to 40% renewable energy. The problem is that the necessary certification system for biofuel is still under development and will not be available before 2025.


Product limitations

Basically, according to standards in Switzerland, both FAME (fatty acid methyl ester) or HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) are allowed for blending or as a 100% substitute for heating oil. However, very high demands are made on the feedstock materials, which must not compete with food, grain or feed production. Almost only products from used cooking oils (used cooking oil methyl ester / hydrotreated used cooking oil) meet these requirements. This severely restricts availability. In addition, the import of FAME and HVO for heating purposes is not yet clearly regulated at customs, which is why these products have so far only been used as vehicle fuel in Switzerland.


In the current situation with 26 different energy laws, a lack of customs regulations and certificates, and the uncertainty of what will be required in a future national CO2 law for the heating sector from 2025, it seems that there is still a long way to go for biofuels in Switzerland.