What is HVO renewable diesel?

HVO is hydrotreated vegetable oil, and it's a fossil-free alternative to diesel.

Published on March 4, 2024

Note: This article was written as part of a commercial content partnership between and Skoda.

In the ongoing struggle to wean the globe from its addiction to fossil fuels, there are many alternative solutions to be found. Electrification is one that's here and now, while hydrogen fuel cell technology is seen as another potential replacement. But EVs are seen as unaffordable by some, while the expense of a fuel cell vehicle and a lack of filling stations mean hydrogen power is still some way off from being adopted, but there are other options available.

There's a growing trend towards finding replacement fuels to go directly into combustion engines instead, ones that come from renewable sources that are less damaging to the environment than drilling for oil. Conventional petrol that you get at the pumps already has an element of ethanol in its mixture, for example, to reduce its carbon footprint, while fully synthetic fuels that contain no trace of oil are also in development.

Renewable petrol is being researched and developed to keep sports cars and classic models running without the need to switch to electrification, but what about a renewable diesel alternative? That's where HVO comes in.

What is HVO and where does it come from?

HVO stands for Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, a name that describes the process through which the fuel is made. At the moment, HVO is manufactured from renewable waste materials - vegetable oil, for example - which are hydrotreated.

The process takes place in two stages. First, the waste materials are saturated with hydrogen at temperatures of more than 300 degrees Celsius (or hydrotreated), then they go through a process called isomerisation, otherwise called cracking, which filters out the impurities and makes HVO suitable for use as an alternative to fossil-fuel-sourced diesel.

The end result is a fuel that can be used as a direct replacement for diesel, without any need to modify your diesel engine to run it.

What is the difference between biodiesel and HVO?

While HVO is a biological alternative to diesel, it's not like biodiesel because of the unique way in which it's made. Hydrotreatment removes any organic impurities from HVO's source material, but with biodiesel the production process means that these impurities can still filter through. They're known as Fatty Acid Methyl Ester, or FAME for short, and with pump diesel containing a seven per cent mix of biodiesel in its makeup, which means FAME can be found in regular pump diesel, too.

There's nothing inherently bad about FAME, but because these organic contaminants can go off over time, it means that regular and biodiesel fuels have a shelf life of only a year before they deteriorate. In comparison, HVO can be stored for up to 10 years, and if kept properly, will still be free from contaminants and be ready to use.

Will I notice any difference in performance or fuel efficiency?

The lack of contaminants in HVO means that while it can function as a direct replacement for regular diesel, its purity should help your car's engine run smoother and more efficiently. There are benefits when temperatures drop, too, because HVO offers improved cold-starting, and while diesel is more likely to turn to gel in extreme cold, HVO doesn't.

How do you know what pump is HVO?

The introduction of HVO will see a new pump colour added at fuel stations that stock it. We're all familiar with the green pump for unleaded and black pump for diesel, so to avoid confusion, HVO will come from a pink pump.

Should somebody be concerned about filling their car with HVO?

A new fuel will always be a cause for concern, but the way HVO is made means that its properties are identical to those of regular diesel, it's just the way that it's made that's different. There are no special conversions needed or reprogramming of fuel systems, simply fill up and you're away.

Is it as good as or even better than diesel?

Research shows that producing HVO from renewable waste materials reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 90 per cent when compared with using fossil fuel diesel, while nitrous oxide emissions are reduced by 27 per cent and particulate matter is reduced by up to 84 per cent.

Is every car compatible with HVO?

Not every car maker has approved HVO for use with its vehicles, but it's just a matter of time before it's another accepted fuel source. For now, it's best to check either your vehicle's handbook or contact the manufacturer directly to see if your car is compatible.

If you drive a Skoda, then all diesel-powered cars built from mid-2021 onwards are compatible with HVO. If you're not sure when your Skoda was built, check inside the fuel filler flap - if there is the code XTL lettered inside there, then it's HVO compatible.

Can I mix HVO and diesel? Is this bad for the car?

HVO is identical in its chemical make-up to conventional fossil-fuel-based diesel, so it's perfectly acceptable to mix the two together. The only issues that might arise are if your vehicle is being stored for an extended period and the fuel becomes contaminated, but then that's an issue for any diesel-powered model, and not something that is directly caused by mixing HVO with diesel.