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Europe currently imports 80% of the used cooking oil (UCO) that it uses as fuel for cars, trucks and planes, according to analysis of latest biofuels data by green campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E).

The bulk of these imports – 60% – come from China, with Spain and Italy particularly reliant on Chinese UCO, the 14 December report said.

With the global airline industry pushing for UCO as a key component in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), T&E has called for greater transparency to avoid UCO becoming a backdoor for palm oil.

Europe’s UCO consumption more than doubled between 2015-2022, with most of it used in transport, the report said.

However, with local UCO supplies limited by both the capacity of local authorities to collect it and how much UCO Europeans could produce, the continent now relied heavily on imports for its supply, T&E wrote.

Demand is set to increase due to airlines pushing for more UCO as a key ingredient in SAF, according to the report.

For example, at the end of last year, Virgin Atlantic launched a 100% SAF transatlantic flight.

High demand for UCO has raised the risk of fraud, where virgin oils like palm are suspected of being mislabelled as ‘used’ to take advantage of the inflated value of supposedly green fuels, according to the report.

Several countries, including Germany and Ireland, were launching their own official investigations into fraud risks while the European Commission had also agreed to investigate fraudulent Indonesian biodiesel potentially transiting through China and the UK to circumvent taxes, T&E wrote.

“European governments say it’s almost impossible to stop virgin oils like palm being labelled as waste. We need greater transparency and a limit on imports to avoid UCO simply becoming a backdoor for … palm oil,” T&E biofuels expert Barbara Smailagic said.

Palm oil biodiesel use dropped by almost 30% in 2022 compared to the previous year due to a phase-out in several countries, T&E data showed.

Meanwhile, Europe saw a significant uptake in use palm oil derivatives such as Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) and Palm Fatty Acid Distillate (PFAD), which cancelled out nearly half of the decrease in palm oil between 2020 and 2022, the report said.