Biofuels for Sustainable Transport -

the lack of UK Government Policy

With proven oil reserves destined to near depletion within the next generation and a half, many governments adopting laid back "they'll find more" or, even worse, "don't let's upset the voters" attitudes, this site is designed for those who would consider taking an active part in sustaining "civilisation as we know it" for our children and future generations.

"Dost thou not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" - Count Oxenstierna, c. 1648!

For information on biofuels for sustainable transport, go to

For the full 1999 story on biodiesel and taxation, go to

For the DTI's muddled 1999 attitude to energy, go to

For the case put in 2000 to HM Government to reduce fuel duty on biodiesel, go to   This paper was also used by the Biodiesel Association of Australia to support their submission for tax relief.  It worked.

For my response to the Government's Green Fuel Challenge (November 2000) go to  It sort of worked and contains some telling comparisons between renewable fuels, including facts and figures.

For the results of the Challenge and the introduction of the Budget 2001 tax break for biodiesel -

Budget 2002 did not bring the "rewards for entrepreneurship" promised by the Chancellor - but that was not all his fault.  The Civil Service bungles and bumbles along as ever, bringing bureaucracy to bear wherever possible.  Jobsworth reigns!

For latest information on the UK commercial production of biodiesel, go to

For justification of our efforts - - the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre

UK Sustainable Transport Fuels Policy

(or absence of.....)

(This paper was written in late 1999 and reflects the attitudes taken at that time.  Changes in policy appear gradually throughout the series, leading to the introduction of the promised biodiesel tax break in Budget 2002 - three months later than promised by the Chancellor and beset with bureaucratic bungling.)
In response to a question regarding sustainable transport fuels (25 May, 1999), Ms Glenda Jackson - then Labour Transport Minister - replied that the use of "natural" gas and electric vehicles was being actively encouraged by the UK government, that public transport was being "integrated" and that low sulphur diesel was a much cleaner fuel! 
Not only does the British government have no policy regarding sustainable transport fuels - without which there will be no of economic development - but the Chancellor of the Exchequer actively discourages transport biofuels by applying the same Fuel Tax as that applied to fossil hydrocarbon fuels.  The sulphur-laden variety, at that!

Whether this is inspired by the royalties being collected on North Sea oil, ignorance or  even innocence, this policy is misguided in terms of fuel sustainability and also disregards the fact that, for every tonne of "eco-friendly" biofuels burnt, three tonnes less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere - the subject of  the Rio and Kyoto global warming reduction agreements entered into by the UK government.

For the politician's side of the story - all sound but no vision - see Mr Blair's letter on

(In no way should this be confused with his hand-written letter on his policies regarding democracy in Northern Ireland!  However, back to the subject.)

Consider the problem logically - since 1859 (the beginning of the Oil Age), some 800 billion barrels of oil have been burnt - half of this since 1970!  Current (1999) estimates of recoverable oil reserves vary between one and 1.6 billion barrels.  In 1859 there weren't many cars on the road.  Now, there are an estimated 475 million fossil-fuelled vehicles, set to increase at the rate of  2% per annum, and oil-fired central heating system manufacturers are thriving.  Irreplaceable fossil oil is being used up at over 70 million barrels a day, rising fast. (Note - 25% of every barrel of oil that is refined is used for central heating.)

So why is the UK government so doggedly complacent?  Perhaps somebody has read the claims made by the American Petroleum Institute - totally unbiased, of course! - on   According to them, there is plenty of oil left.

Road, rail, air and sea transport all depend on fossil oil to keep on the move. When it has finally run out, or the price rises significantly - and the pundits estimate that the crunch will come between 2010 and 2020 - what are we going to use to replace it?
The best that the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) can do is to be found on

That is, unless you count the info to be found on called "Alternative Fuels - UK Trials".  A pathetically small array of ad hoc trials, it contains such admissions as "One of the vehicles was assessed ... by Commercial Motor magazine." and "the changes in the majority of the emission rates ... were quite small" and "not clearly attributable to the type of fuel".  These were carried out in 1993/94, since when the DETR has rejected all calls for a more realistic approach.  Even a search on the Internet would bring forth more constructive results.

We are as baffled as anybody. The DETR has now set up the Cleaner Vehicle Task Force (CVTF), which "aims to encourage people to build, buy and use vehicles which are more fuel-efficient, less polluting, quieter and less resource intensive. The Task Force also wants to improve the environmental performance of existing vehicles."

When asked about biodiesel, the reply was that they this organisation was concerned only with vehicles, not the fuels for those vehicles. Surely, the fuel used dictates the pollution caused? Apparently not. Too logical. Their address -

Then we tried the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development, who told us that "the Round Table had carried out four studies on different aspects of transport, in particular the need for an integrated policy and provision, but it has not looked at fuel, nor is it currently studying any aspect of transport. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, in its major report on transport a couple of years ago, did look at fuel." Great - and we were then referred to the Commission for Integrated Transport, as the UKRTSD was being subsumed into the Sustainable Development Commission next year (2000). (One way of retarding progress - reorganise!)

Pause for a moment - no transport fuel = no development to be sustained.    QED.

The Vehicle, Environment and Taxation Division of the DETR replied to our enquiry -

"With biodiesel some twice the cost of conventional diesel, heavy subsidies would be needed for it to be competitive. Exaggerated claims have been made but carbon saving of around 60% might be possible. Biodiesel does not therefore seem to offer a cost-effective environmental improvement at present."

Yes, it does cost twice as much as fossil diesel AT THE PRESENT ARTIFICIALLY LOW PRICE*, but reduction of only 20p per litre would nullify this difference, in the same way that the government reduced the fuel tax rate applied to ultra low sulphur diesel by 3p per litre in order to achieve parity and to encourage it's use. Apparently without being asked, in the same way that the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced vehicle tax income by 110m in order to encourage us to use cars under 1100cc capacity - in the interests of economy and the environment, you must understand, not - as some have unfairly intimated - to improve the government's popularity with small car users.We are waiting for the economy pundits to come up with the figures showing the amount of fuel actually saved, versus the cost of reduced road tax plus loss of revenue from fuel tax. This is cost-effectiveness demonstrated?

*In the past 12 months, the price of oil has increased by over 50%. In the same time, the price of crude oil has increased by 100%.  Further increases in refined products are therefore inevitable.

**Six months later (June, 2000), the price of crude has trebled.   Perhaps the crunch is coming even sooner, despite OPEC back-tracking on conservation agreements.  Back to the plot.

Secondly, since when can a carbon neutral fuel made from agricultural produce achieve savings of only 60%? Although the energy requirement to make the fuel amounts to 15% of that produced (roughly the same as fossil fuels), this mainly comes from the use of the fuel itself to run tractors, etc. In addition, at least 10% of the carbon is locked into the glycerol by-product. The saving is therefore more like 110%. No reply has been received to our questioning this invalid claim.

Then there was the Secretary of the Foresight Built Environment and Transport Panel of the Department of Trade and Industry, which formed the Foresight Vehicle Steering Group, whose aim, as he informed me,  "is to develop technologies for use in mass-market vehicles of 2020 that are clean, efficient, lightweight, telematic (?), intelligent and lean. Under its LINK programme, 11.5m has been made available for research partnerships in the UK. I suggest you visit their website at as they look after all research in this area which includes alternative fuel technology."

Back up a bit - doesn't that sound strangely familiar - as in the Cleaner Vehicle Task Force remit? Their home page starts off - "There is a worldwide crisis in transport" and then goes on to expound the virtues of short-term expediencies by the development of more efficient vehicles, totally ignoring the essence of the matter - an ever-decreasing fuel supply.

And have you read the latest proposals to graduate the Vehicle Excise Duty on new vehicles, with effect from 1 March 2001?  It leads off - "Thinking of a brand new car?  The less it pollutes, the less you pay ..... VED will be based on a vehicle's  carbon dioxide emission figure and the type of fuel they use.  A low CO2 output means greater fuel efficiency, so you won't just be doing your bit for the environment, you'll also make substantial savings in tax and running costs."

Not if you are running on biodiesel, you won't - not until the UK government starts doing a bit of joined-up thinking.  Take a look at

And please, civil servants and politicians alike,  note the definition of the word  "SUSTAINABLE".  We prefer the one that goes -

For ever and ever, amen




********** The American Perspective **********


********* E-WIRE PRESS RELEASE**********



WASHINGTON, DC, June 22   -/E-Wire/-- It was announced on Capitol Hill today that biodiesel - an alternative fuel made from renewable resources, such as soybean oil - has become the first and only alternative fuel to have successfully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

The tests show that biodiesel poses no health threats and its use results in a 90% reduction in air toxins. Biodiesel is non-toxic, biodegradable and is used in conventional diesel engines with little or no modifications.

The announcement came at a bipartisan briefing by members of the House Energy and Power subcommittee, Representatives John Shimkus (R-IL) and Karen McCarthy (D-MO), who co-sponsored legislation in 1998 that recognized biodiesel as an official alternative fuel for meeting requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT).

Since then, use of biodiesel has soared as bus and truck fleets across the United States have found it the most cost-effective option for meeting EPACT's alternative fuel requirements.

Congressman Shimkus and Congresswoman McCarthy, along with Representatives Leonard Boswell (D-IA) and Gil Gutknecht (R-MN), congratulated the members of the National Biodiesel Board for being the first industry to complete the rigorous health effects testing requirements under the Clean Air Act.

"We know this was a costly process - more than two million dollars - but by funding and completing these tests ahead of all other alternative fuel groups the biodiesel industry has shown that it means business," Shimkus said.

"I am pleased to say that use of biodiesel has increased more than 1,000 percent since our bill became law 18 months ago. By working together, we are providing communities across the country with the ability to meet alternative fuel requirements at the most reasonable cost. We are helping these communities improve their air quality.

At the same time, we are helping America's farmers, while enhancing the nation's energy security. With petroleum prices at an all time high the need for domestically produced alternative fuel is apparent now more than ever. This is a classic win-win situation."

Jack Hartman, president of the National Biodiesel Board, thanked Representatives Shimkus and McCarthy for their leadership in Congress on the issue. "Their legislation is already benefiting communities across the country in three very important ways," he said.

"It is helping us make the air cleaner for all Americans, especially our children.

It is bringing us clean air sooner - because biodiesel is available now, and it is affordable. Representatives Shimkus and McCarthy and their colleagues in Congress created an important new market for America's farmers. I am one of them and I'd like to express my gratitude."

The Congressional Budget Office determined in 1998 that using biodiesel is the least-cost option among alternative fuels to meet alternative fuel requirements for government fleets. The CBO predicted that the federal government would save $10 million annually by using biodiesel in its fleet vehicles.

SOURCE: National Biodiesl Board  -0- 06/22/00

CONTACT: Gina DeLuca, 202/737-8400

No wonder they celebrate Independence Day so enthusiastically!

Further reading -
Electric Vehicles
A 1998 Millenium Commission Sustainable Communities Award led to this Northern Ireland paper being written and resulted in Terry de Winne being awarded one of the first Millennium Fellowships in the UK. It examines the technicalities involved in EVs and opines why these, and some practicalities, have led to a resounding indifference to their use.
Specifically, it recommends the re-introduction of trolleybuses to Belfast as a means of improving the dreadful air quality in the city centre and reducing noise pollution.


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Last revised: April 06, 2005.