Workshop introduces biodiesel, a fuel for the future?

Birmingham Friends of the Earth will be holding a workshop on Monday to demonstrate the wonders of biodiesel. Members of the public will learn how to make their own biodiesel out of waste frying oil, as well as find out about the issues and technicalities involved.

Biodiesel naturally contains nearly zero sulphur, reduces some tailpipe pollutants and is a superior lubricant. It is safely and easily biodegradable and can even be used as a solvent to help clean up fossil fuel spills. What's more, it doesn't contribute as much to climate change compared to conventional petrol or diesel, because the carbon dioxide released when biodiesel burns is taken out of the atmosphere when the plants used to make it are grown.

Biodiesel can be used either blended or fully substituted without engine modification. The oil must undergo a simple chemical process called esterification to remove the glycerine, which would otherwise gum up the diesel engine's injectors.

Biodiesel researcher Matthew Flynn, who will giving the demonstration, said:

"Biofuels are the original solar power, converting the sun's energy into safe, clean, environmentally-friendly fuel. Unfortunately, biodiesel is still relatively expensive to produce and so not yet widely available. [1] By holding this demonstration, I hope to show people how to make their own biodiesel safely and legally so they can take advantage of this unique source of power."

Birmingham Friends of the Earth campaigner James Botham said:

"The fossil fuel economy is becoming ever more precarious. Rising carbon dioxide emissions from transport [2] threaten to derail our efforts to curb the effects of worsening climate change. Oil will become scarcer, [3] more inaccessible, more fought over, and more costly as the century wears on. Against this backdrop, biofuels have an important role to play breaking our unsustainable addiction to oil."

Mr Botham added:

"Biofuels are not a cure-all for our transport problems. Their development must go hand in hand with measures to reduce overall demand for fuel through, for example, improving public transport, promoting walking and cycling, and significantly raising vehicle fuel-efficiency."

Editor's Notes

[1] The UK biodiesel industry is currently very small. Producing biodiesel costs (pre-tax) about twice as much as fossil diesel, depending on feedstock (waste frying oil is cheaper than agriculturally sourced oil). Adding fuel duty makes it too expensive to buy and a reduction in the rate of duty is required to make biodiesel competitive at the pumps.

If the tax were lowered, or abolished, then more small business would be able to start making their own fuel and farmers, could grow and harvest the necessary crops. Lower duty rates are common in the EU and elsewhere in the world. In July 2002 the Government cut the duty rate for biodiesel by 20p/litre compared to that of ultra low sulphur diesel.

New EU legislation will require the UK and other European countries to set indicative targets for the use of biofuels which should increase uptake of biodiesel. The EU's reference targets are 2% by 2005, and 5.75% by 2010.

[2] In the same week that Tony Blair insisted the issue of climate change was "very, very critical" and Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett claimed the UK was a world leader in reducing emissions, official statistics would have shown an 85% increase in pollutants from the airline industry and 59% for freight transport since 1990.

Instead, after pressure from the Department for Transport, the announcement was withdrawn and another substituted which did not mention transport emissions at all. The original unpublished release was passed to the Guardian ('Officials try to hide rise in transport pollution', The Guardian, Thursday 27th May, 2004). Headlined "Rise in greenhouse gas emissions from transport", it says that while overall emissions dropped 10% between 1990 and 2002, the increase from the transport sector as a whole was 50%.

[3] BP has recently estimated that there are some 1.15 trillion barrels, equivalent to 40 years' worth, of oil left in the world

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