Article in INSITE magazine, PEIMF

Gaynor Hartnell, Chief Executive of the Renewable Transport Fuels Association (RTFA) explains what motivated her to bring others together to produce a glossary of low carbon fuels terms.  The RTFA is the trade body for UK producers of renewable and low carbon fuels, established in Autumn 2020.

There’s no doubt that alternative fuels is a rapidly evolving area.  Indeed, it’s moving so quickly that not even those in the field can be confident that there is a common understanding of the various terms and acronyms used.  It’s all too easy to find oneself talking at cross purposes with others for whom transport fuels are their day job and for those for whom this is not their day job, it must be a minefield.

This hit me full on when working with a consultant who was helping the RTFA biodiesel manufacturer members put together our case that the UK should maintain the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs on biodiesel coming from the US.  The consultant concerned was an expert in trade remedies, and the actual commodities concerned were relatively unimportant to him.  Current cases under consideration are as diverse as aluminium extrusions from China and rainbow trout from Turkey, but the economic principles underlying an assessment of whether UK producers of these commodities are at risk from dumped or subsidised imports, are common to all. I set about defining 12 terms for him, and soon realised that even in this short list it wasn’t an easy task.  It included the terms “drop in” fuel, biodiesel, blend wall, FAME, HVO, paraffinic diesel and renewable diesel.

It got me thinking, and I made a suggestion at a Zemo Partnership Fuels Working Group that there should be a common terminology or glossary, in order to make the subject matter more accessible to the uninitiated and to prevent people talking at cross purposes.  I gave a couple of examples of the same term different meaning things.  For example synthetic fuel is defined in the Collins dictionary as “fuel in the form of liquid or gas (synthetic natural gas) manufactured from coal or in the form of oil extracted from shale or tar sands” whereas in the UK’s Low Carbon Fuels Strategy it says “A fuel which is produced from a mix of hydrogen and a nitrogen or carbon source (e.g. carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide). A synthetic fuel can also be classed as a renewable fuel if the hydrogen is produced from a renewable source and any carbon source used is from a renewable or unavoidable carbon stream, for example an industrial process where carbon dioxide would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere.”

I proposed that something that was detailed enough to aid understanding, but not to be the go to source for legal / technical definitions.  The idea was met with enthusiasm, and some high calibre individuals from key organisations volunteered to go on a review group; they included UKPIA’s Chris Gould, SMMT’s Nick Lowe and the chair of its fuels working group Paul Lacey, Nik Hill from Ricardo and Steve Sapsford, consultant to Coryton Fuels amongst others. We worked at it over the spring and early summer, and the first draft of our glossary totalled 49 terms for liquid fuels and 13 for gaseous fuels.

We’ve confined ourselves to road fuels, and will probably leave it there.

So if there’s a term you’ve come across that’s ambiguous, or you want to check that your understanding of it corresponds that of other people, you’ll know where to go.

INSITE magazine will publish a tear-out version of the glossary in the next edition.