Alternative fuel for boats! HVO tests have gone well…


Successful IWA Trial Proves HVO is a Viable Alternative to Diesel and Dramatically Reduces Carbon Emissions on Inland Waterways

Skylark running on HVO 12_9_2021 photo by Alison Smedley
Skylark running on HVO. Photo by Alison Smedley

As COP26 gets underway in Glasgow, the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is celebrating the success of its recent trial of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) in fuelling boats on the inland waterways network. IWA campaigns to protect and restore Britain’s 7,000 miles of canals and navigable rivers and is fully committed to finding a way to ensure the inland waterways meet the Government’s target of zero carbon emissions by 2050. The trial, sponsored by Crown Oils, used a cross-section of boats some with relatively modern diesel engines as well as older, more traditional engines and even a few historic boats.

With over 80,000 powered craft on the network, IWA is well aware that a viable alternative to diesel fuel needs to be found if net zero targets are to be reached. HVO is a second generation biofuel which appears to have all of the necessary requirements going for it – it mixes well with other diesel fuels; is already approved by most engine manufacturers; has none of the diesel bug issues that have plagued first-generation biodiesel; is stable when stored; remains free flowing to -25°C and brings a 10% drop in fuel consumption.

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Skylark back on red diesel 16_10_2021 photo by Alison Smedley
Skylark back on red diesel. Photo by Alison Smedley

The feedback from IWA members who are trialling this new fuel has been overwhelmingly positive. HVO is indeed a viable alternative to diesel fuel and is in fact potentially a straight drop-in replacement compatible with fuel that is already in a boat’s tank.

As well as being 90%+ carbon neutral, there is no need to change the boat’s method of propulsion or to modify the existing engine with any kind of upgrade or trade-in. This means that all diesel engines powering today’s inland waterways craft can easily become nearly carbon neutral overnight, simply by changing their fuel to HVO.

HVO can also be used on-board for domestic use such as cooking and heating. In the trials, boaters discovered that diesel-fuelled domestic devices could efficiently operate on HVO and demonstrated a cleaner burn with reduced fumes and smoke … and less cleaning required! With air pollution being another crucial issue that needs to be tackled, the lack of smoke is a particularly welcome benefit. Quieter running noise has also been reported.

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So what is the catch? At this time, the two main issues with HVO are a lack of availability and taxation issues affecting the price. The first of these will hopefully be resolved as demand increases. Once the market has been established, supply will inevitably increase and in turn, the price may drop. However, IWA will call on the Government to introduce tax cuts on HVO in order to make it more affordable and appealing for boaters to switch their fuel source.

Another potential third issue is that of sustainability. HVO, like all biodiesels, is manufactured from vegetable oils. Currently, the HVO being supplied to the inland waterways is made exclusively from waste and recycled oils and does not adversely affect the world supply of food and food oils. However, IWA recognises that as demand increases, there may be a risk that this could change. The charity will work to ensure this does not happen.

Jonathan Mosse who leads on alternative fuels for IWA’s Sustainable Boating Group says, “While we all agree that electric drives in one form or another are most certainly the future for inland waterway craft, these are still a long way off for most of the existing fleet. For the foreseeable future, the reality is that the vast majority of engines and generators will still be diesel-powered. We need to urgently find a way to change to a more sustainable fuel for our boats, something that not only reduces carbon emissions but also protects the unique waterways environment. We believe we have found the answer in HVO. We also believe that the time to change is now.”

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Bowman Bradley, Chair of the Group, adds “IWA is pleased that a small number of fuel suppliers are now stocking HVO and is encouraging more boatyards and marinas to do so. We are also suggesting that individual boat owners can encourage this more widespread supply by requesting HVO wherever they fill up.”

For more information on IWA’s Green Boating Guide and its Vision for Sustainable Propulsion, please visit

#cop26 #towpathtalk #biofuel #climatechange #canalboats #narrowboats

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