Some 38% of UK energy consumption in the UK is met by oil and petroleum products produced by the UK downstream oil sector. More than three-quarters of these products consumed in the UK are liquid fuels used to transport people and goods.
These fuels are the fundamental cornerstone of the modern economy, enabling people and societies to better their ways of life, grow more prosperous and connect with one another across the globe. In the UK today, 46 billion litres of road transport fuels allow people and businesses to travel 324 billion miles each year, carrying 1.9 billion tonnes of freight. 14 billion litres of aviation fuel is used annually to help 134 million passengers depart from UK airports, and in other transport sectors it is oil-derived fuels that account for 62% of energy used across the rail network each year, along with 103 million tonnes of maritime freight to be moved by ship.
Beyond transport, 7.2 billion litres of oil products were used in 2016 to manufacture petrochemicals, without which we would not be able to develop everyday items such as paints, fertilisers, plastics, consumer electronics, clothing or cosmetics. Not forgetting the contribution to domestic heating, with 3.7 million homes in the UK off the gas grid many of which are reliant on heating oil and LPG as their main source of heating.
Nonetheless, the development of cleaner and more sustainable fuels has been an industry priority for many years. In addition to reducing the impact of their own operations, firms in the downstream sector are actively developing fuels which reduce carbon emissions when they are used. In line with legislation, the sector has already achieved progress in this area by removing sulphur from all petrol and diesel sold in the UK since the start of 2009.
The downstream sector is also increasing the share of biofuel content in its products, as required by the government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation. Firms in the sector are engaged in a range of initiatives to develop renewable fuels from a variety of organic and waste products. One UK refinery has successfully trialled processing waste oil into renewable fuel, while other areas of global research include the develop of biofuel from algae, agricultural waste, and municipal waste. Biopropane was made available on the UK market in 2018 and has an identical chemical formulation to conventional LPG, meaning that it can be used in existing LPG infrastructure and equipment without modification. Synthetic “gas to liquid” fuel is a less polluting form of diesel which can be used in existing diesel engines, and was made available in the UK in 2017.
The changing nature of fuels - whether for transport, chemicals or heating - will be the key to unlocking the transition to a low-carbon economy, and the UK downstream oil sector is already demonstrating the leadership needed to secure change, whilst continuing to offer businesses and consumers a resilient, low-cost supply of energy.