Mineral oil groups such as Neste, Eni and Total have ramped up their hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) production in the EU since 2012.

EU HVO output was estimated at 2.8bn litres in 2018 and is expected to rise to 3bn litres in 2019, according to Germany’s Union for the Promotion of Oil and Protein Plants (UFOP).

Planned production facilities in France and Italy were also expected to boost production to 3.5bn and 4bn litres respectively from 2020 onwards.

“These volumes are major factors in making the EU the largest producer of alternative diesel fuels in the world,” UFOP said. EU production of biodiesel including HVO would amount to around 14.2bn litres in 2019, according to Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft mbH (AMI).

The key reason behind the rise in HVO was the EU’s indirect land use change (ILUC) regulation introduced in 2015, which permitted biofuels from waste oils and fats to be double counted in targets for renewable energy in transport, UFOP said on 15 August.

At the same time, pressure on these prices had increased in the international vegetable oil market.

Palm oil had become cheaper, compared to soyabean and rapeseed oil, and plant operators could order the feedstock flexibly, depending on price.

“HVO plants can use a wide range of feedstocks, such as native vegetable oils, animal fats, fish oil, and used cooking oil as well as oils that are byproducts from different industrial processes, such as tall oil from wood and paper industries and palm oil mill effluent and palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD),” UFOP said.

“It is made by saturating the double bonds in the fatty acid molecules of vegetable and animal oils and fats with hydrogen. Propane is produced as a byproduct. The product can be modified in the HVO production process, so that HVO can be blended with fossil fuels at 7% (the same as biodiesel) or more to make regenerative diesel or biokerosene. This means that HVO can be incorporated specifically and irrespective of the time of year (winter quality) for existing vehicle fleets in the carriage of goods or in traditional kerosene. Contrary to fatty acid methyl ester production (biodiesel), this method involves very high investment costs.”