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Biofuels: On track to bridge the gap

While the world eagerly awaits an electric (or hydrogen-powered?) future, biofuels can help reduce carbon emissions in long-haul transport now. Let’s unpack the technology that’s helping us bridge the gap to decarbonization.

A ‘formula’ for the foreseeable future?

The global urgency for alternative fuels is greater than ever, but the world is really only beginning to transition away from fossil fuels. How can we accelerate the shift? By using the technologies that are available now. For long-haul transport, that technology is second-generation biofuels.

But can biofuels make a difference in global efforts to fight climate change? We think so. And so do our friends at Formula 1® (F1). They’ve set an ambitious goal to be a net-zero carbon sport by 2030 – and we’re helping them get there. This year, we’ve added a fleet of new trucks running on HVO 100 drop-in-fuel – a second-generation biofuel – to support all European F1 races. The trucks reduce carbon emissions by 83% compared to standard fuels, as certified by International Sustainability & Carbon Certification initiative ISCC.

Don’t think that sounds like much? Well, we have to start somewhere! And this is action we can and must take right now to reduce emissions and bridge the gap to the future. And it’s just one example of how we’re introducing biofuels into our logistics operations.

Let’s take a closer look at this important bridge technology.

Why do we need biofuels?

We get this question a lot. Why do we need biofuels when electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles are being developed? Here’s the thing: they’re not ready yet. We’re working with manufacturers to test the latest capabilities, but most experts don’t think they will be ready for widespread use until the end of the decade.

Biofuels are available and scalable right now, which makes them an essential component of the transition to a carbon-neutral future. Biofuels burn cleaner, reduce local air pollutants, and lower carbon emissions. Drop-in biodiesel like HVO even offer the same performance as conventional diesel. More on that below.

Biofuel demand in road transport


Share of global transport energy demand in 2021


Share of global transport demand needed by 2030 to get on track with IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario


Higher consumption of renewable diesel (HVO) from 2019 to 2021

Source: IEA

What exactly are biofuels and how are they made?

Biofuels are actually the oldest source of fuel energy. Humans have burned wood to create heat since the discovery of fire. It’s only recently that we’re finding practical ways to use them to power vehicles.

Biofuels are any fuels made from an organic renewable energy source, such as plant materials, animal waste, and algae. The terms biomass or feedstock are used to describe these raw organic materials. Biofuels come in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. Right now, we’re most interested in liquid biofuels, many of which can be blended with or replace liquid fossil fuels – also known as “drop-in fuels.” They’re compatible with today’s combustion engines because they have similar properties to fossil fuels.

Drop-In Fuels

Can be blended and/or used in conventional engines and infrastructure without modification (e.g., HVO).

Non-Drop-In Fuels

Cannot be blended and/or used in conventional engines and infrastructure without modification (e.g., Bio-LGN)

Making biofuels is a complicated, multistep process, but basically you have to break down and refine the biomass solids. There are many ways to do that, and the process for each fuel is different. It may include crushing or grinding, followed by different methods like fermentation or chemical reactions to convert the biomass into a usable fuel. 

Biomass: creating power from waste

Source: NREL

Advantages of biofuels

Biofuels have several advantages over traditional fossil fuels. The biggest benefit is, of course, that they produce fewer emissions than traditional fossil fuels. Biofuels do not add carbon to the atmosphere when burned for energy. The carbon released during combustion was previously absorbed by the plant during growth.

Biofuels are also offer the same performance as regular diesel. So in the case of drop-in fuels like HVO, you can drive the same long distances on one tank.

Another significant advantage of biofuels is that they are biodegradable, which means they break down naturally over time and do not contribute to pollution or environmental degradation. And because waste or by-products are used to make them, they reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal (fewer landfills!) and add value to these resources. What’s more, they can be produced locally, unlike oil and coal, which are often imported from other countries. This increases energy independence even create economic opportunities in rural areas – which means new jobs. 

Benefits of biofuels






Types of biofuels for transportation and logistics

Biofuels are categorized as first-generation, second-generation, or third-generation biofuels.

  • First-generation biofuels are made from food crops such as corn, sugarcane, and vegetable oil. While these fuels can be produced at a lower cost than second and third-generation biofuels, their production has been criticized for contributing to deforestation and food shortages.
  • Second-generation biofuels are, as defined by the European Commission, made from non-food sources that “do not compete directly with food and feed crops,” such as municipal waste, crop waste, and grasses. These advanced fuels are considered more sustainable than first-generation biofuels because they use waste materials that would otherwise be discarded.
  • Third-generation biofuels are made from algae and are considered the most sustainable biofuel option. Algae can be grown in saltwater, and the production process has a low carbon footprint. However, while algae have enormous biofuel potential, much research and development is still required before production is economically viable.

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Biofuels for transportation and logistics

Let’s look at the second-generation drop-in biofuels that are currently available or the most promising for the transportation sector.

  • Biodiesel: Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO)
    HVO is considered one of the best alternatives to traditional diesel on the market. Neste, one of our sustainable fuel suppliers, calls it “the highest-quality diesel in the world.” Also known as green diesel or renewable diesel, HVO can lower net carbon emissions by up to 90% and significantly reduce other emissions and air pollutants. With similar properties to traditional diesel, it can be used in all diesel engines up to 100% with no engine modification.  Demand for HVO is high and the market is expected to experience significant growth.
  • Biokerosene: Hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA)
    HEFA is the most commonly used sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) commercially available. It can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel. HEFA can be blended with traditional jet fuel without requiring modifications to existing aircraft or infrastructure. The market forecast for HEFA is promising, with increasing demand for sustainable aviation fuel and government initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the aviation sector driving growth.
  • Bio LNG and Bio CNG
    Liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) have long been used as vehicle fuels in liquid or gaseous form. But neither reduce carbon emissions significantly compared with diesel because they are produced from fossil fuels. However, biomass can also be used to make LNG and CNG. Bio LNG or Bio CNG can achieve very high carbon reduction between 80% and 90% compared to their fossil equivalents – and both can be blended with fossil fuels in various ratios, depending on the intended use. Bio LNG is considered more promising because it has a higher energy density, which means longer vehicle ranges, and refueling is faster. That’s one of the reasons we’re working with partners like Shell to expand the availability of Bio LNG.

When will we reach the end of the bridge?

No telescope or crystal ball can answer that question, but what’s clear is that the bridge will stretch over several decades and carry a variety of biofuels on the way to the future. But which fuels exactly will depend on three factors: feedstock, technology, and production capacity.

The bridge won’t simply end but slowly fade away as certain biofuels are phased out due to limited feedstock and more sustainable fuels become available. 

Fuel types and applications

Source: DHL

In it for the long haul

In the long run, most experts believe electric and hydrogen trucks will be the sustainable technologies of the future for long-haul transportation and logistics. For now, we’re following our map to zero emissions, which between now and 2030 includes ramping up our use of biofuels and leveraging the latest electric vehicle technologies where we can, such as in our lighter, last-mile delivery fleet. Our partners at Formula 1 are doing the same, developing technologies of the future, such as an advanced drop-in sustainable fuel to power all race cars as of 2016.

We hope many other companies – in logistics and beyond – will take action now and cross this bridge with us.

Want to know how you can bridge the gap?

Talk to our GoGreen Plus experts

Published: June 2023

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