BAM backs HVO fuels despite Balfour Beatty rejecting them

BAM is accelerating its carbon reduction targets to reach net zero by 2026.
BAM is accelerating its carbon reduction targets to reach net zero by 2026.

Construction firm BAM will continue to back hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) fuels, despite the fact that Balfour Beatty has rejected them, citing concerns about their sustainability credentials.

Balfour Beatty announced in November that it had considered HVO fuels on its journey to phasing out fossil fuels as quickly as possible. But it said there were “serious issues” around the traceability of the fuels and the carbon footprint claims its producers have made. It said there was insufficient information about the sources, transportation methods and production of the fuels to justify the use of HVO fuels.

Balfour Beatty’s move sparked a debate about the role HVO fuels play in the construction sector’s move towards net-zero carbon.

Nonetheless, BAM has decided it will continued to use them to meet its 2026 net-zero target.

Evaluation of pros and cons

The contractor said it had weighed up the arguments for and against HVO fuels.

BAM considered objections over the provenance of the fuels and whether this has a negative effect on changes to land use, such as deforestation in favour of energy-crop cultivation leading to a net gain in carbon emissions. It said its own research indicated this has not been proven for HVO, since the “vast majority” is produced from waste products like used cooking oil.

It also argued that 100% of biofuel in the UK is from waste, with used cooking oil representing 93% of that figure.

Meanwhile, it added that it ensured that the ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification) and ZEMO’s Renewable Fuels Assurance Scheme certified all the HVO it uses on projects.

And it pointed to the fact that the Department for Transport (DfT) also produces quarterly reports concerning biofuel use in the context of the transport sector.

In 2023, the European Waste-based & Advanced Biofuels Association (EWABA), an independent not-for-profit body, will also introduce a ‘Bioledger’ to offer assurances over the provenance of fuels.

‘Less damaging than diesel’

John Wilkinson, chief operating officer of BAM UK and Ireland, said: “HVO was initially regarded by our industry as a silver bullet to significantly decarbonise construction processes. It sounded too good to be true.

“On careful examination of the evidence, however, we are satisfied that HVO is a less damaging liquid fuel compared to diesel. Ultimately it is better to base our position on what is known rather than what is inferred and based upon unproven, multi-layered cascades of interdependencies.

“There is not a unified position for contractors, or clients, so BAM has chosen to be detailed and transparent about our approach. Our reasoning is set out for others to consider.”

Sarah Jolliffe, BAM’s carbon reduction lead, added that the company is committed to using a range of measures besides HVO fuels.

She said: “We are investing in low-carbon technology such as using electrification and hydrogen generators. There are other tools in the box and making the switch to HVO doesn’t limit our ability to invest in these alternatives.

“Although using HVO fuels isn’t the long-term solution, it is the most effective intermediate means for our industry to move away from using more harmful fossil fuels. We see it as a transition fuel which is less environmentally damaging than continuing to use diesel.

“HVO fuel reduces carbon emissions by upwards of 85% by comparison across Scope 1 and Scope 3 well-to-tank (WTT) emissions. 

“The world has a climate emergency. Until cleaner forms or energy are more viable for use in our industry, we believe the use of HVO is the most favourable solution.”

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