HVO vs Diesel vs Electric: A Strong Case for Transport Refrigeration

HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) is often seen as a quick fix for reducing emissions in transport refrigeration. However, our data shows it may not be the most cost-effective or sustainable long-term solution.

As the transport industry seeks greener solutions, many are considering HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) as a short-term alternative. This could be used to power trucks but also to replace the diesel used in the 50,000 diesel transport refrigeration units across the UK. However, our data shows that it might not always be the best approach for fleets. 

What is HVO? 

HVO is a renewable diesel fuel made from vegetable oils and animal fats. It is seen as a cleaner alternative to diesel, reducing greenhouse gas emissions without requiring modifications to existing diesel engines. 

One of the benefits of HVO is that it can replace diesel without the need to purchase a new transport refrigeration unit. This makes it an effective solution for reducing CO2 emissions in older vehicles, delivering quick and tangible environmental improvements. As a ‘retrofit’ solution this could be ideal for businesses. 

Let’s dive deeper into the cost and environmental benefits of the fuel. 

HVO v Diesel 

Firstly, an important and less well-known fact is that more HVO is required to meet the same energy demand as diesel. This is due to less energy per litre of fuel. To be precise 7.3% more HVO is required. 

This sounds like a small increase in extra fuel, but HVO is already more expensive than diesel. As a result, switching your operations to HVO can have an immediate increase in operational expenses. 

Let’s take a look at how this impacts the operational cost of running your fleet. 

 Lifetime fuel cost 
Fuel One unit Fleet of 150 
Diesel £54,000 £8,100,000 
HVO low cost £1.35 (£/l) £62,741 £9,412,650 
HVO high cost £1.50 (£/l) £72,405 £10,860,750 

This means, that if you are running a fleet of 150 reefers and paying 1.50 (£/L), you could be paying an additional 34% more in fuel costs to achieve reduced CO2. 

HVO and CO2 reduction 

HVO cuts CO2 emissions, helping to achieve sustainability targets. However, the fuel does not have the same benefits as a true zero-emission solution. It still creates CO2 emissions, and more notably it still contributes to pollutants that are damaging to human health such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter. 

While cutting CO2 is the main sustainability target for many businesses, this should not come at the cost of operating margins. This is why we can look at HVO’s ‘£ to CO2 reduced’, or in other words, how much it costs you to reduce CO2. 

Our findings suggest fleet operators running chilled routes could be paying between 40-60% more to get the same CO2 reduction as you achieve from a similar battery-electric solution. 

Battery and solar-powered refrigeration can offer a more sustainable and cost-effective solution compared to HVO for temperature-controlled transport.

Cost-effective sustainability 

Sunswap’s battery and solar-powered system offers significant operational cost advantages over HVO and diesel. The lower cost of electricity compared to diesel fuel is just the beginning as the ability to harness free solar energy substantially reduces daily energy expenses. 

The benefit of solar energy generation is amplified during peak summer months, precisely when refrigeration demand is highest, creating a perfect synergy between energy generation and consumption. 

As a result, a battery and solar solution like Endurance (Sunswap’s fully electric transport refrigeration unit) can slash operational costs by 70-80% compared to HVO-powered units. This translates to a 20-35% reduction in total cost of ownership. These savings not only improve a fleet’s bottom line but also make the transition to sustainable refrigeration economically viable for fleet operators, effectively aligning environmental responsibility with financial prudence. 

Future-proofing your fleet 

As regulations around emissions tighten, particularly in urban areas, battery and solar-powered units are better positioned to meet future requirements. They align with the broader trend of electrification in transport, making them a more future-proof investment. 

While HVO offers a quick transition away from traditional diesel, it ultimately represents a costly stop-gap solution with limited long-term viability. The primary reason for adopting HVO is its sustainability benefits. 

However it’s crucial for operators to carefully check the true cost-effectiveness of this approach by examining the price per unit of CO2 reduction achieved. This analysis shows that more economically sound and environmentally impactful alternatives exist.  

Sunswap’s Endurance, for instance, not only provides zero-emission but also offers substantial cost savings, presenting a more holistic and sustainable solution for the refrigerated transport industry. By looking beyond stopgap measures like HVO, operators can invest in technologies that offer both immediate environmental benefits and long-term economic advantages, truly driving the industry towards a zero-emission future. 


To find out more and get a custom comparison on the impact you could have by switching to electric refrigeration, contact the team today

Note: all calculations are based on average diesel use for temperature-controlled transport and will vary based on fuel use, routes, temperatures and other operational factors. To get a tailored comparison reach out to the team.