Sweet Solution leaves a bitter taste
Friday June 6, 2003
(Motoring section, page 1)
Jim McGill reveals disquiet in delay over 20p reduction in 'sugar fuel'
As a driver you're probably fed up to the back teeth with all the wailing from those on the environmental green treadmill. Don't get me wrong, I do my bit to save the planet. I diligently recycle plastic bottles, put my newspapers in the recycling bin at the supermarket, and enjoy having a smashing time at the bottle bank.
But we drivers are easy targets for the green extremists who would rather we all just got rid of our cars - though they haven't actually worked out an eco-friendly way of doing that yet - and walked.
The good news though is that manufacturers around the world are striving to find the alternative fuel to petrol and diesel which will stop people like us draining the world's natural resources.
Understandably Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Government, aware that supporting the move away from petrol and diesel is a vote winner, have instigated little initiatives aimed at fuelling the growth of alternatives like liquid petroleum gas and petrol/electric hybrids.
The Powershift scheme was set up specifically to promote the use of low pollution and alternative fuels and ensures that buyers of hybrids automatically qualify for a £1000 grant towards the purchase of the vehicle. Such vehicles are exempt from Ken Livingstone's punitive £5-a-day tax for entering the City of London.
Chancellor Gordon Brown meanwhile has just shot himself in the foot by deciding against public interest and solely with a view to swelling the coffers at No 11, to postpone a 20p-per-litre reduction in fuel duty for bio-ethanol fuels until the year 2005.
Bio-ethanol fuels? Now don't laugh, but bio-ethanol is alcohol distilled from organic products such as, believe it or not, wheat or beet sugar.
When blended with petrol at a rate of 10% and burned in conventional petrol engines, bioethanol produces less carbon dioxide greenhouse gas and local pollutants, provides four-to-five times more energy and is a renewable energy source. You simply grow more in fields.
Though they are not exactly mainstream in the UK, manufacturers like Volkswagen, Citroen, Peugeot, and Ford are among the pacesetters who have already produced bio-ethanol powered cars. Citroen have a development C3 capable of running on bio-ethanol, while VW has the technology in a Golf.
Peugeot meanwhile have used the 307 to pioneer the new fuel and Ford have turned to the Focus to test its ethanol engine, a perfectly nimble vehicle which I drove recently.
Don't for one minute assume that just because it's got the word 'bio' in it that a bio-ethanol engine is going to be agricultural or slow.
There's an ethanol/petrol-powered car entered for this year's Le Mans 24-Hour race which takes place next weekend.
While ethanol/petrol mixes are used widely across the States as a means of improving exhaust emissions, in the UK there remains a lack of a supply industry despite a growing demand from an environmentally-aware public for such a clean fuel.
Given these facts, it's initially unclear why Chancellor Brown has decided to delay any bio-ethanol incentive.
"Why wait until 2005? I don't understand it," Edmund King of the RAC Foundation said this week. "It certainly wouldn't cost much to introduce the reduction right now and give a real incentive to the industry." It's a view backed by Peter Clery, chairman of the British Association for Bio Fuels and Oils.
"Not only am I disappointed that the duty reduction won't be introduced sooner," Mr Clery said, "but I'm disappointed that the reduction is only going to be 20p a litre. This is a market which is waiting to take off and there is no incentive being offered to people eager to fuel the supply industry.
"We have 600,000 hectares of idle set-aside land in Britain alone which could easily be cultivated to provide a million tons of clean road fuel a year. It certainly wouldn't take much to create the fuel source but delays like this one instigated by the Chancellor are not helping our cause."
Further examination of the possible thinking behind Mr Brown's decision to delay the reduction in fuel duty appears to support the Dunfermline MP's action.
According to some experts, the delay is aimed at allowing the Government to block the flood of cheap imports of raw materials into the country which would be needed to meet the low-tax demand.
In a move which would potentially scupper the growth of a British fuel-supply industry, it's likely distilled sugar cane would be shipped by bio-fuel manufacturers from South America via the Caribbean as an EU-border dodge, thus negating the need to grow the crops in the UK and in turn further damaging the economy.
Another factor causing the Chancellor concern is that with millions of gallons of pure alcohol being driven round the country, there is a serious threat from criminals before the fuel has been rendered undrinkable.
Right or wrong, the Chancellor has made his decision and those of us wanting to power our cars with sugar will just have to wait.