Time to step on the bio-gas

In Brazil, cars run on sugar cane. In the US, a lorry is fuelled with wood. Terry Kirby wonders why we're being so slow to follow the lead

A A A

In North Wales, bio-fuel pioneer John Nicholson runs his Mercedes on pure duck fat obtained from a firm that makes Chinese meals for supermarkets. Meanwhile, in the US, Alabama farmer Wayne Keith uses a pick-up truck with a wood burning stove that provides hydrogen to power the engine.

Both men are grappling with one of the biggest questions facing the planet: where do wefind alternatives to fossil fuels? The answer may lie not only in wood and duck fat, but also in cooking oil, rapeseed, palm oil, sugar cane and even wheat. All are natural forms of hydrocarbon waiting to take their place as fuels that can power our vehicles without upsetting the delicate balance of the planet.

Road transport emissions rose by 50 per cent between 1990 and 2003; these account for about a quarter of all Britain's fossil carbon emissions.

Nicholson, whose company sells bio-fuels made from used cooking fats says: "To run a car on duck fat, all you have to do is cut into the fuel supply pipe; and the engine just sucks it in. It works best on cars like Mercedes, which are well built."

Nicholson discovered alternative fuels a few years ago during the fuel price blockades. "It is amazing what some engines will run on. Although the fact that an engine will run on an unusual form of bio-fuel does not always means that it is running cleanly or efficiently.''

Bio-fuels were once only the preserve of those either in the know or enthusiasts concocting bio-diesel from used vegetable oils in their sheds. But almost unheralded, there has been increased acceptance of bio-fuels among bodies such as police forces and local authorities, with several police forces already trialling bio-diesel.

Environmentalists hope they will help increase demand for biofuels and prompt the Government towards greater support, currently limited to a tax break of 20p per litre.

Biofuels break down into two types. Bio-diesel is made from used or fresh vegetable oils by a simple conversion process. It can then be used in most diesel engines. It is possible to use the oils without the conversion process for short periods, but most engines tend to clog up after a while, so converted fuel is preferable for long term use.

Recycling used oil results in around 85-90 per cent of fossil fuel emissions being removed; the level reduces to about 50-75 per cent using freshly made oil.

About 150 places sell bio-diesel in Britain and conversion plants are springing up, although most of the fuelis actually a blend of conventional diesel and 5 per cent pure bio-diesel. But while campaigners such as Nicholson argue that diesel engines in many cars such as Mercedes, Volkswagen and Renault can run happily on pure bio-diesel, manufacturers say that, because of doubts about purity, the limit must be 5 per cent.

Bioethanol, a petrol substitute, is more problematic. It is essentially alcohol distilled from renewable sources - including, as Wayne Keith discovered, wood. In Brazil, many cars run on bioethanol made from by-products of the sugar cane industry. But, unlike bio-diesel, it cannot usually be used in petrol engines without adaptation.

So what should the Government do to encourage greater use of biofuels? Richard Hill, of the British Association for Bio-Fuels and Oils says: "We want the Government to impose a mandate on fuel suppliers to ensure that a proportion of all sales will be bio-fuels. And an increase of 1p a litre on diesel would be enough to remove all duty from bio-diesel. The Government badly needs an environmental success story and this is one that could be easily and quickly make a massive impact."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teachers required for Cambridge Primary positions Jan 2015

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in Cambridge...

British Sign Language Teaching Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education are lookin...

English Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - Saffron ...

Primary Supply Teacher - Northants

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Primary School Supply Teache...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain