In the context of a rapidly changing climate, clean alternatives to fossil fuels represent an unmissable opportunity for the golf industry to advance towards a sustainable future.
One club stepping forward is Woburn Golf Club in England, which has already begun moving towards hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVO) to replace the use of diesel to power its fleet of greenkeeping machinery.
Staff at the GEO Certified club hope to ditch diesel completely from their machinery - a move that would reduce the CO2 emissions of its fleet by 90% - and with a rising cost of fuel being heightened by war in Europe, the initiative could take on an even greater significance.
What were the main motivations behind switching?
Rising diesel costs weren’t the main factor behind Woburn’s desire to stop using diesel fuels. Staff had begun discussing a switch to biofuels as soon as they became commercially available, and it helped that the club’s workshop manager had previously worked in the motor industry and was aware of vehicles being run on waste vegetable oils.
However the unpredictability of fuel prices made the move even more important. After stocks nearly ran dry during a national supply crisis in August 2021, when a surge in panic buying resulted in petrol stations across the UK having to close due to lack of fuel, the decision became even easier.
“Now the massive increase in fuel costs means that this has become our main concern for the future use of diesel,” explains Gavin Sowden, the club’s Environment and H&S officer and a Sustainable Golf Champion.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to sustainability and good environmental practice, we are always looking at different ways we can reduce our carbon footprint.”
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are a more environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels.
Making the move to biofuels
Woburn found a supplier of HVO just ten miles away from the clubhouse, and in 2020 trials got underway.
“We started by operating two of our older utility vehicles with HVO fuel,” adds Sowden. “Prior to the trial all of our machinery manufacturers were contacted and their feedback was a major factor with us going ahead with the trial.”
The staff operating the vehicles were tasked with reporting any changes in performance, while workshop staff carried out their own inspections of engine components. The results were good.
Despite this change happening amid the backdrop of soaring diesel prices, adopting HVO as a primary source of fuel does come with its own cost attached. It is not an inexpensive option - yet.
“When we started the trial in 2020 the cost of HVO was nearly double that of diesel. Without any government incentives to change to HVO, that cost remains high.
“For example in Sweden, which has had tax exemptions for biofuels since the 1990s, the use of HVOs increased by 66% in 2016 and is now the third largest transportation fuel type in the country.”
What are the advantages?
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are made by reacting vegetable oil with hydrogen at a high temperature.
The main benefit of using biofuels like HVO as an alternative to fossil fuels is that they’re made from renewable sources and create less harmful emissions. As Woburn have demonstrated, these natural fuels are adaptable and can be used in most existing engines - though guidance is recommended.
Other benefits include:
HVO has a higher flashpoint than diesel, which makes it much safer in terms of handling and storage.
It’s biodegradable, insoluble in water, and less of a risk to the environment in the event of a leak or spill.
It requires fewer filter changes and lower maintenance costs.
It performs well in extreme weather like winter freezes.