MORE than 16,000 homes in County Durham could be heated by vegetable oil within the next five years, according to a new industry report on the future of rural heating.

Oil heating is one of the most popular choices for those living off the gas grid and a new report from OFTEC, the trade association for the oil heating industry, suggests these homes could switch to a renewable alternative, such as a vegetable oil blend, by as early as 2022.

The green biofuel could play an important role in reducing carbon emissions from these homes and provide a long term, sustainable solution for rural heating across County Durham.

Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, said: “Switching oil-using homes to a biofuel, which blends a small amount of kerosene with vegetable oil or an oil derived from waste products, represents the best of both worlds.

“Households could continue to enjoy the benefits of a liquid fuel, such as topping up when they want and shopping around for the best price, while also drastically cutting their carbon emissions.

“For households, adopting this biofuel would be relatively simple as the fuel can be stored in existing oil tanks and would only require a minor boiler adjustment, which could be completed during an annual standard service.”

He said other renewable heating technologies currently available for rural homes, such as air source heat pumps and solar thermal, have seen limited take up due to high upfront installation costs, and the significant disruption involved.

OFTEC is confident that while oil is currently the cheapest of all the major heating fuels, the price of a biofuel could become very competitive following a mass roll out.

Mr Farrow said: “We are going through a period of significant change in the way we consume energy, from the move towards electric cars for transport to renewable sources of heating.

“Biofuels could represent a realistic and viable option to help rural homes reduce their carbon emissions. We have presented our detailed proposals to local MPs and government and will shortly begin real world testing.”