Grease in Greece

We haven’t exactly been looking at biofuels during our time in Greece, but after my first blog post about biogas in Bali and Pak Kyle’s (Green School’s Bio Bus founder) intrigue and love for all things biodiesel, I decided to do a little research on biodiesels in Greece. While the biodiesel scene here is a bit more official and legitimate than what we seem to have going on in Bali, I wondered what the situation was with biodiesel, if the oil being used was at all sustainable, and what the Bio Bus was doing that was similar or totally different to the biodiesel market in Greece.


A view of Athens from the Acropolis

What surprised me the most is that the demand for pure biodiesel (B100) is bordering on non-existent here in Greece; pretty much all the Greek biodiesel companies are blending their fuels, which means that there isn’t need for that much biodiesel (well a lot less than if all these companies were to use 100% biodiesel (B100 is what Bio Bus uses) in their engines). The companies in Greece are using at the most B5 which contains 5% biodiesel and 95% petroleum. Biodiesel production began here in December 2005 with a company called Hellenic Biopetroleum Industrial and Commercial S.A. in Killius, which is in North Greece. The annual capacity of this company was 40,000 tonnes of biodiesel, and within the next two years an estimated 11 biodiesel opened up, one of these with a capacity of 200,000 tonnes of biodiesel produced annually. Biodiesel that was used in Greece was not all from the plants around the country, some biodiesel supposedly coming from Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. Despite importing from other European countries, the demand was still fairly low, in 2005, only 420 tonnes biodiesel were produced while in 2006, 51,545 tonnes were produced and delivered to the refineries for blending. So the biodiesel scene here isn’t too huge, and fossil fuels are still the main source for petrol here (I never said it was perfect), but I still needed to find out how this biodiesel was being produced; something that can be environmentally devastating.


175L of UCO collected by the Bio Bus team, soon to be made into biodiesel

Through my scanning of articles, research documents and long data analysis PDF’s (it sounds so much more scientific than it was), the mention of Used Cooking Oil (UCO) came up just once, but still, it was one time more than I expected. “ The raw materials used by the above biodiesel production units comprise about 70- 80% imported oils (rapeseed, soya-bean, etc.) and about 30% domestically produced oils (cottonseed, sunflower, used cooking oil, etc.).” I searched to see if there even was a market for UCO in Greece and I saw that Used Vegetable Oil is sold for €540-570 per metric tonne (1000 kilos), but otherwise it seemed to be a bit of a dead end. I wondered if UCO wasn’t being used to make biodiesel, what oils were? And furthermore, was the growth of these oils sustainable? With olive oil being one of Greece’s biggest exports, and with over 132 million olive trees producing 350,000 tons of olive oil annually, I thought that maybe it could be used for biodiesel, but it’s too expensive to produce in large quantities for something besides olive oil or olives. Even with Greece being a major producer of cotton (cottonseed is being used to produce biodiesel), agriculture really isn’t a big aspect of Greece’s economy, with it accounting for just 8 percent of GDP in 1998. Sunflower oil was hardly even mentioned so it didn’t seem like that had an impact and it definitely isn’t a monoculture; nothing really seemed to be, expect olive trees. On a domestic level, biodiesel didn’t really seem to be contributing to the monoculture of olive trees in Greece because the cost to make olive oil is too high to be used for it, and in terms of the other oils, there was hardly a dent, meaning in terms of sustainability, biodiesel didn’t have a terrible impact on the environment here. The only problem would have to be the import of oils like quoted above, 70-80% of the oils are imported. I thought about this and the effect this could have on the environments of other countries, thinking if the situation was at all like the palm oil crisis in Indonesia, but there isn’t really a high demand for biodiesel in Greece, and they don’t even use B100. The unsustainability of agriculture primarily for biodiesel didn’t seem to be a problem even without the use of UCO. Nice one Greece!




The Bio Bus being filled by our on-site pump station with B100

If you didn’t know, the Bio Bus is a social initiative founded and run by students (and Pak Kyle) that works around a trifecta model of transportation, education, and community. There are 3 buses that all run on B100, and that is made at Lengis Hijau, a biodiesel plant, from UCO that is collected from around Bali. From what I have learned about biodiesel in Greece, there are hardly any similarities between the two. First of all, there are legitimate plants dispersed over Greece, where in Bali there is just the one. The amount of biodiesel used here is pretty nonexistent, B5 compared to B100 is a huge difference. I’m really surprised that there isn’t more information about UCO considering how big olive oil is in Greece (we’ve been having bread covered in olive oil and balsamic vinegar before dinner almost every day – oops). And considering I found hardly anything on the sale of UCO, I’m assuming it’s not a huge market or it’s all underground/black market kind of situation that I would have no idea (like most people in Bali have no clue about the UCO black market there). There doesn’t seem to be any “bio buses” running here, most likely due to the small desire for biodiesel.  I think I have a huge bias in saying this, but I feel like Greece has a lot to learn from Bio Bus, but so do a lot of places!

Biodiesel is more often than not being produced in unsustainable ways, unless it is using UCO like Bio Bus is doing, but because there is such a low demand for it, it is being produced in very low quantities, and in this case there is a very low chance of it becoming a monoculture industry like we see in Indonesia with palm oil. This means that while these oils aren’t UCO which would be the best option, the unsustainability of monocultures here in Greece for biodiesel production isn’t a huge problem. This isn’t to say that monocultures aren’t a problem, and this isn’t by any means excusing the growth of these plants purposefully for biodiesel. But it seems to me that the situation with UCO isn’t as serious as it is in Bali, and because of the extremely low demand and use of pure biodiesel (B100) the production and growth of plants such a cottonseed and sunflower seed isn’t too critical. I’ll be interested to find out about biodiesel in Italy as we continue our travels, so don’t forget to look out for my next post!

Written by Sofi Le Berre


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