Alternative fuels need more government support to become truly mass-market

The government needs to do more to support alternative fuels such as used cooking oil (UCO) if they are to see mass adoption in road transport, according to the winner of this year’s Motor Transport Low Carbon Award.

Rob Wright, head of distribution at Pladis (previously United Biscuits), which has pioneered the use of UCO to power its HGVs, warned that industry take-up would stall without direct support.

The company behind McVitie’s Biscuits began experimenting with UCO as a power source in 2010. Its converted trucks use diesel on start-up before the UCO is fed into the mix in increasing volume.

Once the driver reaches his destination, the system is flushed with diesel.

After initially mixed results, it teamed up with Biomotive (now part of bio-fuel refiner Olleco) and cracked the performance and maintenance issues it had struggled with by adding a bolt-on that heats the oil before it is introduced into the engine.

Participation in 2012’s DfT Low Carbon Truck Trials showed the 10 Euro-5 trucks (run for two years) and two Euro-6 trucks (run for six months) saved a combined 2,300 tonnes of CO2 and had a 40% reduction in tail-pipe particle emissions against diesel during the trial.

Wright said: “The issue we have is economics. We are in a chicken-and-egg situation. To make this a viable proposition Olleco needs the volume to bring the price down.”

However, Wright said that with the crash in crude oil prices, a technology that was once both good for the planet and the wallet had been reduced to cost-neutral status, which was threatening wider adoption.

“We need to get some support in the short-term from the DfT. There used to be a duty break on bio-fuels but that was when there was mixed publicity and talk that if it was coming from virgin crops it wasn’t the right thing to do.

“Our view is the government ought to provide a duty break if you can prove it’s from a waste stream or sustainable source,” he said.