A Waste-Oil Crunch Is Coming for Renewable Fuel

Aviation Fuel, Renewable Diesel Depend on Sufficient Supply
waste oil
Used cooking oil is collected in Uttarakhand, India. (Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

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The world’s renewable fuelmakers are about to face a crunch in one of the most basic building blocks they need to be profitable: sufficient supply of waste oil.

By 2030, global targets for the production of sustainable aviation fuel will require at least twice the amount of used cooking oil that can be collected in the U.S., Europe and China combined, according to Transport & Environment lobby group. That doesn’t take into account the waste oil needed for making other fuels, especially renewable diesel.

Western nations’ use of cooking oil for biofuels production has led to dependence on imports from Asia, notably China, the group said. “The U.S. and European countries will fall short of UCO supply if they were to bet on this only feedstock” for sustainable jet fuel.

Waste oil is a key component of renewable fuels, but it’s limited by the practical realities of how much can be collected. T&E has long questioned whether some companies are massaging their figures and actually collecting other feedstocks, such as palm oil, instead.

U.S. imports of used cooking more than tripled in 2023 from a year earlier. European countries used almost 7 million tons of used cooking oil for biofuels last year, about eight times what it collected. Most of it comes from restaurants and food manufacturers.

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