South Korea Adding Bio-Heavy Oil as Renewable Energy Resource

South Korean legislators in September passed a law allowing the use of bio-heavy oil to generate electricity. The law, expected to be implemented at the start of 2019, is designed to use the oil, made from animal fat, leftover cooking oil, and the by-products of bio-diesel processing, in place of petroleum.

The country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said the use of bio-heavy oil is more environmentally friendly than conventional oil, and will provide a more stable energy source. The government has tested the use of bio-heavy oil for power generation since 2014 at five power stations that run on bunker-C oil. The Korea Petroleum Quality and Distribution Authority said bio-heavy oil emits 39% less nitrogen oxide, 28% less fine dust, and 85% less greenhouse gases than conventional oil—and almost no sulfur oxides.

The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has made the use of cleaner energy resources a priority, pledging to increase the country’s use of renewable energy to 20% by 2030. “Electricity generated using renewable energy will increase once bio-heavy oil is commercialized. This will contribute to reaching the government’s ‘Renewable Energy 2030’ goal, cutting down on fine dust and greenhouse gas emissions,” the Trade Ministry said in a statement.

Coal-fired power generation hit a new high in South Korea in 2017, with three new coal plants coming online with combined generation of 5.3 GW. The country also in 2017 suspended operations at 11 of its 24 commercial nuclear reactors, meaning coal supplied an even higher percentage—43.2%—of South Korean power. Nuclear power supplied about 27.5% of the country’s generation in 2017; Jae-in’s administration has said it wants to reduce nuclear power to about 24% of the country’s generation by 2030. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplied 20.8% of South Korea’s generation in 2017, although the country dropped to No. 3 on the list of the world’s largest LNG importers, trailing Japan and China.

Jae-in won a special presidential election and took office in May 2017, running on a pledge to move the country away from coal and nuclear power, and increase the use of renewables. The latest plan calls for an increase in installed capacity of renewable power generation to 58.5 GW by 2030, up from 11.3 GW in 2017, a jump of almost 420%. The country’s energy ministry said the plan is to add about 31 GW of solar power generation capacity and more than 16 GW of wind power capacity by 2030. The new plan would drop coal-fired generation’s share of the country’s electricity output to about 36% in 2030. Part of Jae-in’s plan involves increased cooperation with Russia; his administration has outlined a “New Northern Policy,” which seeks to broaden economic opportunities in Russia, and Northeast and Central Asia. Russia and South Korea already cooperate on joint projects for LNG and gas-fired power generation.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor.