The diesel fuel industry has come in for a large amount of criticism recently as the Volkswagen emissions scandal has brought the issue of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution firmly into the public consciousness.
For a long time diesel has been cast as a more efficient alternative to petrol, and celebrated for its lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. But there has been a volte face in perceptions now that people are beginning to realise that the downside is that diesel engines are the single biggest contributors to unhealthy levels of nitrous dioxides (NO2) in our cities. In some European capitals, including London, NO2 levels are double World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, and early this year the United Nation’s public health arm described air pollution as a “public health emergency”.
The problem is not limited to the cars on our roads. Given that most construction equipment and heavy goods vehicles run on diesel or rather red diesel, major construction clients are now looking very closely at the environmental impact of the plant they use on site.
“A lot of the equipment, the generators and the mobile plant runs on gas oil,” says Hall Fuels specialist product manager Peter Bamber. “We can definitely see moves on the part of clients to reduce NO2 emissions by using bio-diesels and bio-diesel blends.”
As a key fuel supplier to Crossrail and to 95% of the large construction businesses operating in the UK, Bamber says the company is keenly aware of the imperative to reduce emissions and is constantly evolving its products to address this.
Bamber joined the company when Hall Fuels became part of World Fuels Services (WFS), an American company which took over what used to be Watson Petroleum and Hall Fuels in 2014. He says Hall Fuels now has access to WFS technical support and product supply to help meet evolving customer needs.
“We’re starting to get involved in what’s known as second generation bio diesel,” says Bamber. “The product is known as HVO – hydro treated vegetable oil – and can offer better performance and significantly reduced NO2 and particulate emissions, particularly for things like mobile generators.”
Keen to emphasise the fact that the fuel “doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul” Bamber stresses that the new product can be manufactured from used vegetable oil and, more specifically, from the “fat bergs” that block Britain’s sewers.
hall fuels truck
No filter clogging
He adds that it has none of the filter clogging issues that bedevilled first generation bio diesels.
“Conventional bio diesels don’t have very long shelf lives and often resulted in fouling of fuel tanks because of microbial growth,” he says. “They also tend to act as fuel tank cleaning agents, but this ultimately causes problems because freed-up material ends up in equipment filters and the equipment then fails.
“As a result, engine manufacturers often delayed approvals for using bio-diesel with their machinery. The new product, however, is chemically the same as diesel and has more of the good quality paraffinic compounds found in conventional diesel without some of the problem compounds such as aromatics.”
Hall Fuels commercial manager Lynn Devos thinks tighter legislation on emissions in tunnelling projects will force major clients to look at cleaner fuel options. But she also thinks there will be a market to provide more efficient fuels to projects which have a more acute sense of their social responsibilities .
“Take High Speed 2,” she says. “Because the project is so high profile and there are a lot of public concerns, I believe there will be a desire to deliver the project with as small an impact on the environment as possible.”
But Devos thinks that a supplier’s environmental and social obligations also extend to the way it delivers goods to site. She points out that Hall Fuels is one of the first companies to become a gold-accredited member of the Freight Operators Recognition Scheme run by Transport for London (TfL).
Under the scheme, Hall Fuels truck drivers must spend a day cycling on public roads before sitting a classroom assessment to prove that they have a safe approach to driving in urban areas and on site. Vehicles are also fitted with sensors to detect if a cyclist gets too close.
“To retain the accreditation we also have to prove that as a haulier we are reducing our own carbon emissions through being smarter with our planning and logistics,” says Devos.
For Hinkley Point Power station, which will soon be starting on site again, Hall Fuels has been the supplier to the core enabling team for the last year. For this project, a premium will also be placed on the safety of freight deliveries.
“We conduct risk assessments before we make a delivery,” says Devos. “We want to be on site in the cleanest and most time-efficient way.”
In additon, the company is conscious that its clients working on long term projects need reassurance on pricing.
“One thing we have been doing, particularly in the last six months or so, is hedging for customers, what we call fixed forward pricing,” says Bamber. “A number of customers have taken a look at it and fixed themselves into a price for the next couple of years. We have the ability to lock that in for them.
“We can generate a price over the next period and generally a customer would look to fix the price on 70% to 75% of their demand to allow for fluctuations, but that has been very popular over the last few months. Realistically, nobody knows where it is going next but it doesn’t look like a bad buy at current levels.”
Devos says this gives bigger projects the reassurance that they will not go massively over budget on fuel spend.
“That really applies to the civil-engineering-type contractors, because they sometimes have to put a price in for a job that is going to take 12 to 18 months and that means a fixed price can often be the best way to go,” says Bamber.
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