Ideal Alternative Fuel Slips Through Our Fingers

One hectare of biodiesel fuel produced from rape see oil (canola) will produce enough for about 10,000 miles in an average car

Published: 30-Jan-2004

lass=headtypea>SUPPOSE there was a vehicle fuel which could be produced in Britain in sufficient quantity to meet all our road transport requirements, which neednever be in short supply, which would go far to meeting our obligations for using renewable energy and reducing levels of greenhouse gases.

Suppose, on top of all this, that production of the fuel would do much to revitalise the rural economy.

You might expect that environmentalists, Government Ministers and farmers would be dancing in the streets.

Well, there is such a fuel: biodiesel. It is derived from oil seed rape, a crop which grows readily in Britain and could grow on a fair proportion of Welsh agricultural land. It could do much for our struggling farm sector and for diversity in our countryside.

Biodiesel can be used in standard diesel engines directly or blended with ordinary diesel. One hectare of rape will produce enough for about 10,000 miles in an average car. Extensive analyses by government and independent bodies show that on any pollution criterion it is very much better than fossil diesel, or any other fossil fuel, including liquefied gas.

One especially interesting finding is that its total life cycle emissions are far less than those of fossil fuels. Life cycle emissions include everything from the initial stages (extraction in the case of fossil fuel, producing seed and fertiliser in the case of the plants), through all the growing and conversion stages, to final production and use of the fuel. Some environmentalists had been worried that pollution from producing fertiliser, from the tractor work involved in ploughing, fertilising and harvesting, and from processing the seeds to produce the fuel would offset the inherent benefits of the fuel itself, but this is not the case.

So why no celebrations? It seems that there are three dampeners. The first - environmental concerns - is largely removed, except for those whose fundamental objection is to the motor car itself. The second - market demand for the farm product - depends on the development of a biodiesel production industry; this is well under way in continental Europe butBritain is lagging behind for lack of investment funding.

This raises the third and most frustrating obstacle: Fuel taxes imposed by the Treasury. When some years ago lower pollution from liquefied gas motor fuels was demonstrated, the Treasury reduced the tax rate on them by 40p a litre, bringing the pump price down to about half that of fossil fuels; usage is still meagre, however, and fuel tax revenues have not suffered much. But the tax reduction on biodiesel is only half that enjoyed by gas (although it is renewable and even less polluting); and because production costs are higher than for fossil diesel, pump prices are much the same so there is no incentive to change or to invest.

The Treasury, it seems, is more concerned about fuel tax revenues than the environment, let alone encouraging a lively new industry. And instead of revitalised real farming we get wind farms.

Paddy Rooney is a former chairman of the Dyfed CLA

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