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French MP proposes allowing used cooking oil to be legal car fuel

He said it would help people with the rising cost of petrol and diesel and reduce pollution but critics say the impact would be ‘marginal’

Not all vehicles can use cooking oil as fuel Pic: Sergio Foto / Shutterstock

An MP has submitted a law amendment arguing that cooking oil – such as used chip frying oil – should be allowed to be used as car fuel instead of petrol or diesel as it is more eco-friendly and would help people save money.

The head of the environmental party Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EELV), Julien Bayou, submitted the idea as an amendment to the forthcoming purchasing power.

Read more: Cost of living in France: New details on 'purchasing power' law 

The MPs who have backed the idea say that enabling used oil as fuel would offer “relief to wallets” and also emit less greenhouse gas compared to using traditional fuel.

The practice is currently not allowed in France despite years of campaigning from environmentalists. 

Read more: Can I use diesel alternatives to drive my car in France?

How does it work? 

You cannot just pour used cooking oil from your pan into your petrol tank. First, the oil must be “decanted and filtered”, the MPs explain, with around eight litres of fuel available per 10 litres of oil.

The oil can then be mixed up to 30% with normal fuel, explains the website Roule ma frite, an association that specialises in collecting used oil with a view to transforming it into vehicle fuel. 

Some vehicles could use 100% cooking oil fuel “with some adaptations” on the vehicle, it said.

However, not all vehicles can use cooking oil as fuel. Only older diesel engines are compatible and only if they have been fitted with a specific injection pump model that can deliver the fuel to the combustion chamber, explains Roule ma frite.

Can cooking oil be used in France now? 

No, except in some circumstances. 

Using cooking oil as fuel would be considered a customs crime because it is not taxed in the same way as traditional fuel. In case of a severe accident with a vehicle powered by cooking oil, this could have severe consequences for the driver.

However, some local areas have managed to arrange exceptions for testing purposes. 

For example, the town of Béthune-Bruay (Pas-de-Calais) has recently been experimenting with a fuel made up of 100% processed cooking oil to run its rubbish trucks and since 2019 had already been using a fuel made up of 30% oil and 70% diesel.

The cost is €1.30 per litre, compared to the current prices of more than €2 per litre for traditional fuel.

Similarly, on the island of Oléron (Charente-Maritime), the Roule ma frite association collects and filters used oil from restaurants and canteens, and has used it to power the island's tourist train for the past two years. 

Supporters of the bill are now calling for the practice to become more widespread in France, especially as many in Europe are “calling for this type of biofuel”, the MPs said.

The RecOil project, supported by the European Commission, aims to encourage the recovery and processing of used household oils.

Less pollution

Proponents of the amendment say that recycling cooking oil would have a positive effect on the environment as well as the public’s wallets. 

The text authors stated: “This fuel produces 90% less greenhouse gas than classic diesel and emits far fewer fine particles.”

Reusing cooking oil also means it no longer ends up in used water drains, meaning there is less risk of it obstructing pipes or water treatment plants.

‘Marginal gain’

Not everyone is convinced, however.

Emilie Repusseau, deputy general secretary of the Fédération nationale de l'automobile (FNA) said: “This can cause severe mechanical problems depending on the vehicle (including clogging up the engine, injectors and catalysts).”

And environmental association Canopée has said that the legalisation of cooking oil as fuel could not have much effect on French purchasing power overall. 

Sylvain Angerand, Canopée campaign coordinator, said: "The recycling of used oil may be interesting locally in the context of a circular economy, but the volumes are so small that the gain in purchasing power would be marginal.”

Grégory Gendre, from Roule ma frite, admits that reused cooking oil in France would not cover fuel consumption on its own.

However, he said that if it was used locally and targeted “to enable isolated people to go shopping or to the doctor, then the area producing the oil will also be producing [fuel] resources to meet its needs”.

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