06 Oct 2023

The role of renewable liquid gases in decarbonising off-grid heating

Decarbonising rural heating has been at the forefront of many discussions lately. Sophia Haywood, Head of Advocacy and Communications at renewables specialist Dimeta, explores the role of renewable liquid gas within hybrid systems.


Over two million rural homes, businesses and industries are not connected to the main gas grid in the UK, the majority of which are using oil and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) for heating.
With the energy transition picking up pace, these communities will need safe, affordable and practical ways to heat their homes or power their businesses on the journey to net zero in the coming years. Especially considering recent proposals by policymakers that would ban the replacement of off-grid fossil fuel systems in Scotland from 2025 and England from 2026, with very limited replacement options – primarily a heat pump.
When we hear the term ‘off-grid buildings’ in the heating space, the term ‘hard to heat and difficult to treat’ often comes to mind. Sometimes considered a slogan, sometimes over-politicised – the core of the statement does still ring true. Retrofitting rural homes to improve energy efficiency for low-temperature heating systems can often be costly or impractical, particularly for older, traditional properties or those in remote areas.
While there are some great examples of magnificently retrofitted older buildings for heat pump technology, this is not something that is going to be universally available to all due to cost, technical and practical reasons.
Take ‘Conwy Cottage’, for example, an archetype of 227,000 similar houses in Great Britain. It’s a detached, solid-walled family home built before 1945, currently using oil heating. Its impact each year is the equivalent of driving 37,000 miles in the average petrol car. It would not be impossible to retrofit this building, but to do so and install a heat pump could cost upwards of £30,000.
This is unattainable for many, evidenced by a recent survey which demonstrated that 70% of rural households said they would not be able to afford £15,000 – £30,000 to install a new heating system after 2026. It is for this reason a multi-solution approach to Net Zero is critical, including renewable liquid gases, such as Renewable and Recycled Carbon DME, alongside heat pumps.
Renewable & Recycled Carbon Dimethyl Ether, or DME for short, is a low-carbon, clean-burning liquid gas that can be produced from a wide range of renewable feedstocks, such as waste or biomass. The sustainable fuel can cut emissions by up to 85% for rural communities, reaching over 100% savings if carbon capture is used.

“A multi solution approach to Net Zero is critical, including renewable liquid gases such as Renewable and Recycled Carbon DME, alongside heat pumps.”

Sophia Haywood, Head of Advocacy and Communications

DME can then be blended up to 20% with LPG, with no need to modify equipment or appliances, enabling LPG users to seamlessly reduce their carbon footprint without the need to significantly invest. It can also be used on its own, with changes to infrastructure, ideal for industrial players looking to move away from oil.
Renewable and Recycled Carbon DME is being championed by Dimeta, who are currently developing a first of a kind waste- to-DME plant in Teesside through project developers Circular Fuels. This plant, once operational in 2025, will produce over 50,000 tonnes of sustainably made DME from household waste – the equivalent of 25% of the UK domestic heating market.
Solutions such as DME will help accelerate the decarbonisation of off-grid areas, alongside heat pumps and potentially even combined as a hybrid, not to forget other necessary solutions such as bioLPG, biomass and solar. From my perspective, a multi-solution approach does not water down the route to Net Zero, instead, it strengthens it. For example, a 2019 UK study showed that implementing a mixed technology approach for rural areas is a more cost-effective way to meet emissions reduction targets, saving £7 billion compared to pure electrification approach.
Looking to the future, the recent ‘Biomass Strategy’ released by the UK government showcased the potential for renewable liquid gas in supporting hard-to-electrify buildings, but now we need to see support outlined in the off-gas grid regulations and a move away from the proposed ‘one size fits all approach’ in public policy. That way, we can enable rural communities to achieve a just transition to Net Zero.

This article was originally published in the Heating & Plumbing Monthly 

Sophia Haywood

Sophia Haywood

Head of Advocacy & Communications

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