Facing emissions crackdown, heating fuel industry turns to biofuels

Facing ever-increasing emissions standards, the heating oil industry is being forced to adapt or be regulated out of business.

Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, says the way forward for his industry is to commit to “net-zero carbon emissions” by increasing the use of biofuels.

“The Northeast’s heating oil industry has resolved to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050,” he said in a press release. “This ambitious goal was set at the Northeast Industry Summit held during the 2019 Heating & Energizing America Trade Show.”

Wikimedia Commons/Versageek

HEATING THE OLD FASHIONED WAY: Heating oil companies say they can use biofuels to adapt to increasing emission standards put on by the government.

Heating-fuel industry leaders passed a resolution calling for a 15 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2023, then 40 percent by 2030, and finally 100 percent by 2050.

The resolution had support from more than 300 industry leaders from New England and New York who attended the Northeast Industry Summit.

Donnell Rehagen, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board, explained why he supports the change in direction.

“The heating oil and biodiesel and renewable diesel industries work together to provide homes and businesses with low-carbon fuel options,” he said. “We are excited to see this partnership strengthening and look forward to a continuing collaboration.”

The Northeast heating oil industry delivers renewable liquid heating fuel to at least 5 million homes and businesses representing 80 percent of the national market. The average heating oil company is family-owned and employs about 25 workers.

Cota told True North it’s a popular misconception that all heating fuel is petroleum-based.

“That’s the irony of it. People think that in order to get to net-zero, in order to reduce carbon emissions, you have to eliminate liquid fuels, particularly distillate, of which we use 200 million gallons in Vermont every year.”

That includes 100 million gallons of heating oil, 60 million gallons of off-road diesel, and 40 million gallons of on-road diesel.

“There’s a simple swap-out technology that costs the consumer nearly a [minimal] amount and you can get to net-zero,” he said. “The technology is here, the product is here, we’ve been using it for the past 15 years.”

He said using biofuels gains renewable status without expensive hardware upgrades associated with electric alternatives.

“The current energy plan is to spend $15,000 heating the house with electricity, getting a new heater that doesn’t work during the coldest days of the winter. That doesn’t look like a good plan,” Cota said.

Currently, heating fuels are using around a 5 percent biofuel mix with the other 95 percent being the conventional nonrenewable type. Cota said the trick to getting those numbers turned around is not an economic challenge.

He said biofuels do “behave in small ways different from straight heating oil,” and producers need to find ways to store them in outdoor tanks, which endure colder temperatures.

Cota said it’s the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard that forces energy companies to take on biofuels or face penalties if they can’t comply.

“It’s been around for a decade; it’s a federal program that requires major companies to blend renewable fuel into their supply,” he said.

Asked how the support for embracing biofuels is catching on with lawmakers at the Vermont Statehouse, Cota said it’s a work in progress.

“Do I think they are behind it? No, but I think they will be and they should be,” he said.

“I think there are a lot of people who are invested in the electrify-everything movement,” he added. “From an energy security standpoint, from a competitive standpoint, if you can achieve your carbon reduction goals and not cost the consumer any significant capital investment in new equipment, and continue to support the small businesses that have kept the economy going for the past 100 years, I think that’s a positive thing.”

Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, said she supports the fuel oil industry trying to adapt with these new emission policies, so long as the options are realistically viable.

“It is a great idea for the heating oil industry to think about how to get to net-zero emissions,” she said. “This proposal — I have no idea if it’s viable — but I welcome the industry doing this thinking, talking about this, and coming forward to participate in the conversation.”

She noted it’s in the best interest of Vermont that these fuel companies can continue to support the economy.

“I’m also not interested in seeing these companies perish,” Sibilia said. “Their employees, they provide them jobs.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Versageek

10 thoughts on “Facing emissions crackdown, heating fuel industry turns to biofuels

  1. Dartmouth folks were planning to implement an environmentally damaging tree burning heating system for its campus that would not have been sustainable for many, many years, because the combustion CO2 would not be absorbed by biomass regrowth on the harvested area for about 90 to 100 years AFTER THE C-NEUTRALITY PERIOD, which would be up to 35 years in northern climates, such a northern Vermont, northern New Hampshire and all of Maine.

    See this URL

    I have been advocating ground source heat pumps for heating and cooling and providing hot water to Dartmouth College’s 120 buildings.

    In New England, AIR source heat pumps are suitable only for highly insulated/highly sealed buildings which would have low peak heating demands during the coldest days.

    In New England, AIR source heat pumps are UNSUITABLE for ALL other buildings, i.e., about 98% of all buildings in New England, no matter what various non-technical, self-serving bureaucrats say. Do not listen to them, as you will regret it later.

    Note for Lay People: At low air temperatures, the delta T of the air and refrigerant is very small, thus only little heat can be extracted from the air, i.e., heat pump output decreases at exactly the same time the building heating demand is increasing. Gee whiz, no wonder they do not work in cold climates.

    Here are two examples from countries where realism is still operative:

    Example 1: There are around two million single-family houses in Sweden, and approximately 20-25% of these houses are heated with a GSHP (2015 status)
    They work great no matter the outside temperature, because the ground temperature always is about 55F, when outside it is about -20F in winter.

    Example 2: My cousin lives on the ninth floor of a 12-story modern, condo building in Maassluis, the Netherlands.
    The building is part of a housing complex of 20 buildings entirely provided with heating, cooling and domestic hot water from ground source heat pumps already for more than 35 years.
    In the Netherlands, all that is old hat, routine BAU.

  2. I think we tried this with the bio fuels for the trucking and industrial industry and it was a colossal failure.

    Take the subsidies out of the ethanol gas and bio fuels are they really cost effective? Much less carbon neutral? If you factor in all of the expenses and equipment replacement costs that result from using these in the vehicles or equipment I think you’d find it actually creates more pollution.

  3. Cota is correct regarding using AIR SOURCE heat pumps in Vermont.

    Consumers should know the facts when it comes to buying a Cold Climate Heat Pump (HP) and whether it will help save money heating their house.
    All is explained in this article.

    Using HPs in Vermont

    An electric HP works best in a one-story house with an open floor plan, i.e., kitchen/living/dining one big room. They do not heat the whole house, only the room where an appliance is located.

    In a typical Vermont house, a HP will displace some fuel oil, but you still need a fuel oil (or propane or wood) central heating system operating in the winter to ensure pipes do not freeze.

    – When pipes freeze up, they can crack and cause significant damage. One freeze up with broken water and/or heat pipes can cost thousands of dollars to repair.
    – Whether the fuel oil displacement “saves money” depends on the efficiency of the central heating system, the fuel price electricity price and insulation and sealing of the house. See note.

    NOTE: The net effect of a regressive carbon tax on heating fuels is to artificially increase the heat pump energy savings, i.e., artificially shift the economics in favor of heat pumps for state policy reasons.

    Burlington Electric Department of Vermont Severely Curtailed Its Heat Pump Program

    According to BED, Efficiency Vermont’s estimated savings were grossly exaggerated. “BED is scaling back its 2018 – 2020 projections of HPs installed in the City of Burlington, VT, due to the results of a 2017 VT DPS evaluation report.

    The VT-DPS evaluation report indicates:

    – The owners of the surveyed HPs had average savings of about $200/heat pump per year
    – The owners displaced, on average, only about 34% of their annual fuel oil, i.e., the other 66% of fuel oil was supplied by the traditional heating system.

    The VT-DPS report did not mention other HP financial impacts on owners, such as:

    – Annual loan payments to utilities, such as GMP. See table 1 and Appendix for details.
    – Annual maintenance contract fees, at about $150 per year, no parts
    – Cost for unscheduled outages, at about $150 per call, no parts
    – Amortizing the $5000 heat pump at 5% for 15 years requiring annual payments of $474 per year
    – Amortizing the $10000 traditional back-up system a 5% for 20 years requiring annual payments of $792 per year


    Instead of installing hundreds of HPs during the 2019, 2020, 2021 period, BED is now anticipating, i.e., making money available in its budget, to provide incentives for no more than 15 HPs during that period.

    Those few HPs likely would be in pre-selected, highly insulated/highly sealed houses to ensure 85 to 100 percent of displacement of fuel oil.

    Google Burlington Electric 2018 Tier 3 Plan, which BED is required to submit the VT-Public Utilities Commission every three years. The Plan describes the BED HP intentions for that period.

    NOTE: The BED intentions barely were mentioned by the VT mass media, because it does not bode well for the VT Comprehensive Energy Plan goal of 35,000 HPs by 2025.

    That goal was based not on any analysis, but likely on a number picked out of a hat by bureaucrats.

  4. Using B100 for building heating is a far-out pipe dream, i.e., no basis in reality
    It would take very large land areas to produce the crops to make B100.

    For example, just to replace the 2017 US DIESEL consumption would require 651 million acres of soy cropland.
    At present, the US has only 350 million acres for ALL crops.
    Where would the other 350 million acres come from?

    The UPSTREAM CO2 of B100 is about 42% of the combustion CO2, so even if one were to neglect the combustion CO2, a dubious POLITICAL proposition claimed by proponents, there still would be the UPSTREAM CO2.
    All is explained in this article

    The 2017 US B100 CONSUMPTION was:

    Production 1,596 billions gallons
    Imports 0.301 billion gallon,
    Inventory 0.088 billion gallon
    Total 1.985 billion gallon

    The feedstocks were soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, yellow grease, choice white grease, tallow, poultry fat.

    US diesel consumption was 45.833 million gallon, about 28 times greater than B100

    US Biodiesel (B100) From Soybean and Other Sources

    The US planted about 89.6 million acres in soybeans in 2017.
    The soybean crop, all uses, was 4.390 billion bushel, for a yield of about 4.39 x 1000/89.6 = 49 bushel/acre

    B100 production required 6.230 billion pounds of soybean oil from 0.532 billion bushels in 2017, or 11.654 lb oil/bushel.

    The soybean crop for B100 required about 0.532, B100/4.39, all uses x 89.6 = 10.857 MILLION acres.

    B100 produced from soybean oil was 0.826 billion gallon in 2017
    B100 from other sources was 0.770 billion gallon.

    NOTE: Renewable diesel is made from used, petro-based grease and used, petro-based lubricating oils. It is not B100. Its CO2 has to be counted.

    Replace US Petro-Diesel with B100 from Soybeans

    US “diesel” consumption was 45.833 billion gal in 2017, per EIA
    B100 blended with petro-diesel was 1.985 billion gal from various sources.
    Petro-diesel was 43.848 billion gal
    B100 was about 4.00% of the total Btu of “diesel” consumption, based on LHV
    Additional B100 would be 43.848 x 129488/119550 = 47,493 billion gal, based on LHV.
    Total B100 would be 1.985, existing + 47.493, new = 49.478 billion gal
    Total cropland for B100 would be about 49.478 billion gal/76 gal/acre = 651 million acres, if no imports.

  5. Did Mr Cota say anything – or just talk around the topic.
    No idea where material for biofuels would come from, cost, efficiency.
    Words with ideas,, ideas without content

  6. Oil, coal, gas – when I was in school a long time ago, we were taught these all had a biological origin, that carbon was the basis of life. These are no longer considered biofuels? Change in definition, or have they been discovered not to be organic after all?

  7. This sounds so typically Vermont, i.e., Utopian. While Bio-fuel from rapeseed and sunflower is currently thought to be 45% less carbon intensive than petroleum, this does not take into account ecologically damaging and carbon intensive fertilizer to grow the crops, the effect of water use on the land and the huge amount of acreage needed to be cleared to grow enough for biofuel. It is estimated that the loss of forested land needed to go from the current ratio of 5% biofuel to 100% biofuel would take hundreds of years before any benefits would be seen.
    While Matt Cota and Donell Rehagen are shilling for their industry, they are doing so, sadly, to a stare legislature that is so conditioned to go down any yellow brick road where climate change is concerned, the will construct policy around their dubious and unfounded predications.
    And meanwhile, the real fix, i.e., nuclear power, goes wanting.

      • Thank John as well for all your rational thoughts you have communicated to Vermonters for years – I always learn something from them.
        I wonder if we will live long enough to see Vermont, at the very least, on a political path that is inclusive, rational, and sustainable governed by folks that are intelligently realistic.
        At 74 I am not holding my breath…..

  8. How about explaining what the modifications are, the source of the fuel, the boiler efficiency, and how it makes for net-zero emissions, since there are still emissions. Frankly it sound like nonsense.

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