back to article National Express bus kingpin ditches biofuel trial

National Express, "the largest scheduled coach provider in Europe," has closed down a biofuels programme which could have seen its vehicles running on 30 per cent-bio diesel. According to a Press Association report, the coach giant quit on biofuels due to worries that they weren't, in fact, a truly green option. "The issue …


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  1. james

    He might actually have a point...

    Much as I hate to side with a company like this - he might well have a point.... Bio-fuels are an attempt by the US to keep their pertrol intensive lifestyles going despite the coming of Peak Oil; stats show that one tank of petrol for a HumVee has enough calories to feed a person for a year; and that even if ALL cropland in the US was planted for bio-fuel it would still only provide 11% of the fuel that is needed.

    The idea is dead; its gonna take a more radical approach to lifestyles to enable us to survive peak oil combined with climate change.

  2. David Purveur

    Going Green

    Nearly all major developments seen in the modern car have come to us courtesy of motor sport, namely F1. Active suspension and anti-lock breaking for instance are now commonplace but were once the preserve of the racing car.

    All major governments of the world should lobby the FIA to establish a ruling that all racing cars within five years should only be allowed to compete using sustainable, non-polluting fuels. We would then see a rapid development of the technologies at the expense of the competing teams. These developments would themselves become commonplace and desirable in all new road cars within ten years. That way we all become winners and not just Hamilton!!!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shock horror

    Using palm oil to make biodiesel is killing the planet!

    So let me begin by saying that the plants used to produce biodiesel are the wrong kind! Cannabis has long been known to be the best crop for producing bioethanol, can be grown in far larger yields on smaller land, all year round with harvest every 3-4 months. As a prolific "weed" cannabis will grow in very large quantities and spread very quickly over the course of a year, the ICO of starting a cannabis farm is lower than any other kind of farm, cannabis consumes 5 times as much CO2 than rape seed or palm and on burning produces far fewer emissions than any other kind of biofuel or fossil fuel.

    Don't forget it also makes some of the highest quality paper on the planet so we wouldn't have to submit more Sequoia's to the chop for toilet paper and TV guides. And for those crazy anti-drug americans, they should wake up and realise that the declaration of independance and the bill of rights are written on hemp paper harvested on the farm of george washington, who smoked it too!

    If you're gonna make a difference to the way we consume, then governments have got to stop being so stupid when it comes to things like this.

  4. Chris Collins

    Ethanol & corn dead end

    Running vehicles on ethanol is pointless, due to the way industrial ethanol is produced. Leave it in beer. Corn is also a poor source of oily compounds (can you "juice" a cob? No) and the American should stick to making Twinkies out of it.

    The Brazillians get away with ethanol due to their huge sugar cane production, which is a good source of the raw product. I don't understand why the US insists on trying to do it all on corn, why not use the swathes of now Indian-less land to grow a more useful oil source. Like algae, sunflowers, rapeseed, triffids etc.

  5. Dan

    re: Shock horror

    Been tried before:

  6. Frank Bough


    Amen to that idea - F1 should already be imposing strict (if the teams don't squeal, it isn't strict enough) fuel limits and REDUCING them each year. Efficiency is the key for high performance just as it is the key for low consumption - and fierce competition is the best way to get there.

  7. Adam

    Useful as an energy store

    An interesting U-turn, it seems National Express are looking at the wider issues rather than just jumping on the green bandwagon. I think it all highlights the fact that we don't just need to move to renewables, but also look carefully at energy useage. One of the points made in this article is that the production and supply chain (farming the crops, fermenting and distilling the fuel, supplying it to the fuel stations) can and should be powered in a more sustainable fashion, i.e. electrically powered from wind/solar/hydro. Fuels must be used efficiently (no Hummers or hybrids please), and selected wisely for the application.

    Biofuels are useful as they are a dense, transportable energy store, and "recharging" takes a couple of minutes at a conveniently-located petrol station, with a room-temperature, atmospheric-pressure fuel. Electric cars reliant on hydrogen fuel cells or storage batteries have to carry around a LOT of mass to produce the same energy as a typical 40-60 litre tank of ethanol, and few people want gallons of sulphuric acid, lithium or hydrogen in their car when they crash.

    As to questioning the choice of crop, why do you think America and Europe get most of their sugar from sugarbeet? Well, sugarcane doesn't grow well in those climates. Biofuel crops must be chosen carefully to give maximum energy output per acre of land. A Swedish colleague has told me all about the funky grass they use in Sweden for ethanol, fast growing and as tall as some trees. Try growing sugarcane in Sweden!!!

    The F1 idea is inspired. They could phase it in by relaxing rules for cars that DO use biofuels (remove the stupid rev limit, allow turbos?) for a few years, then just switching completely. The higher octane numbers and cooler-running of ethanol would make it a no-brainer.

  8. Gavin Nottage

    Re: Going Green

    David, I totally agree that F1 needs to look towards the future, which is why the FIA are introducing regenerative braking (I think it's for 2011, but can be voted in earlier by the teams) and other such technologies, hopefully along with a 1.2 litre 4 cylinder turbo engine that is comparatively fuel efficient.

    Biofuels as we know them today don't seem to be the answer, but from what the comments are here, the world already knows better solutions, and with the right permissions and financing from governments can significantly aid their countries reliance on fossil fuels. Of course some leaders would rather go to war to secure easy oil than pump the money into a longer term objective.

    Developing both the technology and infrastructure, together with reducing the amount of fuel required seems the best way forward.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The UN is up to the mark, as usual...

    "The UN has said that biofuels might be either good or bad"

    So nothing new in New York then.

  10. David Purveur

    Going Green - Seeing Red

    Well it's good to see some support for my F1 idea here at least. I have already approached the previous Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell only to be given the brush off. It seems green is not really this governments colour.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Useful as an energy store

    "few people want gallons of sulphuric acid, lithium or hydrogen in their car when they crash."

    But on the plus side - there wouldn't be much to clean up afterwards, apart from maybe a crater in the ground!

  12. Will Leamon

    You should check with Max Mosley first

    You guys should really do some research on the FIA. First off Max says that in 2011 the cars will be dropped to a mere six cylinders and... wait for it... will be running on biofuels (they haven't sated from which source yet). The cylinder drop is to prevent noise pollution and the fuel change is to give F1 a more green approach to the sport. Especially considering Greenpeace and others absolutely hate F1 - they've declared it the most polluting sport in the world though how it can be worse than NASCAR I'll never know.

    Plus ABS brakes were invented in passenger cars first then brought to F1. Same thing with traction control.

  13. Andrew Barratt

    F1 best idea yet

    That comment about getting F1 to develop more efficient engines is inspired. It should be pushed further.

    Those guys have some of the most talented individuals in the automotive industry.

  14. Cameron Colley

    Are F1 teams run on government money?

    Funny, I'd not realised that our taxes were spent on F1 -- if I had I would have started campaigning that they use larger, heavier cars with less fuel efficient engines -- as I'd rather watch them go round the track.

    As it was, I hadn't realised so I left them to get on with things as they see fit as I didn't think it was any of my business.

    I wonder if football is government run too -- if it is I'll ask that the grass be left to grow longer, so it can be harvested for use in ethanol production for use in dragsters, and that the fans be made to walk to the stands so F1 can use the fuel instead of them. While I'm at it I'll ask that the players be made to travel to work on mopeds and play matches with foreign teams by teleconference.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Go electric

    If Tesla Motors can create an electric sports coupe that has a ~500km range, then surely someone can build a commuter car with comparable range?

    (Yes, I know most electricity comes from fossil fuel sources, but it's still easier to control emissions at a centralized power plant, and it's easier to make this sort of power generation more efficient.)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Shock horror

    That wasn't the idea, but kudos for choice in movie!

    WRT F1, I seem to remember the Supermarine Squirrel came out of such extraordinary competition. The squirrel of course was renamed in 1940. It is now lovingly referred to as the spitfire. Or the machine that won the war, or at least a significant part of it.

    Its a good plan to put F1 into this line of research. What do you get if you put the worlds best engineers in a competitive environment with budgets which would make your average holywood blockbuster drool.

    You get change! Rapid change! Change for the better!

    I would also like to point out that they do try to make the F1 cars fuel efficient too, so they carry less weight and refuel less often, but as they still run on ethanol on 12 cylinder engines there ain't any big wins to be had.

  17. Robert Spencer

    Genius F1 idea

    Why not start an online petition and get it circulated through the social networking sites and motorsport sites - to be honest, the technology is one of the main things that interests me about F1 (and the 'blocking your team mate from qualifying' tactics...)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FYI ...

    ... Anti-lock breaks first appeared on airplanes, in 1929, and not in F1 race cars.

  19. John A Blackley


    I'm always interested in discussions about schemes to reduce carbon in the atmosphere (because many of them have a strong whiff of 'this year's con').

    Particularly, I like the arguments about "peak oil" (James). I attended a Greenpeace meeting (I'm not proud) in 1979. The only thing I remember about that meeting was the speaker's assertion that "oil production has peaked and we'll run out in ten years."

    I also like suggestions that some fast-growing weed would solve problems - even weeds that are currently illegal to grow in the US (anonymous person). Every time I read something about this, the sums (to plant, grow, harvest and process the stuff) come out to be not a very good deal at all.

    But, I have to admit, my favorite this time around is to pressure F1 racing into becoming the leading edge technology provider for alternative transport fuels (various). Aside from bowing a little to the pressure of the "shouty hippes", does anyone really think that the most commercial of commercial organizations (about the money, by the money, for the money) would do anything to jeopardize its profit margins?

    By-the-by, normally, in this space, I'd have a minirant about people outlining the problem and not proposing a sensible solution but I have a disclosure to make: At the age I am and without any known progeny, I reckon there's enough air to last me through my declining years. After that, well, frankly Scarlet............

  20. PJ

    2nd generation biofuels

    I always thought the hope for biofuels lay in the second generation stuff, i.e. using the stalks and stems to create the fuel. Personally it sounds like non-starter to me, better just burn up the stuff we produce anyway (wood shavings etc.) Anything purpose grown is a waste of time.

    "few people want gallons of sulphuric acid, lithium or hydrogen in their car when they crash."

    Yeah, give me 45 litres of petrol any day. At least with hydrogen you know that you're short fiery death isn't contributing to you carbon footprint.

  21. Tibb the Cat

    F1 and Ethanol

    Didn't they try using an ethanol mix fuel in F1 and Indy-car racing in the sixties? It was banned for safety reasons, I can remember seeing film of a car on fire, the driver burning, and being left to burn because the marshalls/stewards couldn't see the alcohol flames - which are invisble in daylight.

    Back in the 1930's motorbikes raced using a methanol/water mix and that was even worse, though it did produce a heck of a lot of power - effectively you ended up with a steam -assisted internal combustion engine as the heat of ignition superheated the water.

    If you want to use biofuels then the secret has to be minmal processing - just crush the plant, extract the oil and burn. Don't spend energy on chemical conversion to alcohol or biodiesel, just burn the crude oil. Making biodiesel is wasteful in that you need to use sodium methoxide to trans-esterify the fats - and you end up with unsellable glycerin (world glut) and impure sodium hydroxide as waste products, while fermenting the biomass to alcohol would require an energy-intensive distillaton stage.

  22. Mr Larrington

    Racing fuel

    Way back when motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe, all self-respecting racing cars ran on some variety of alcohol - petrol was only for little tin boxes. Starting in 1958, the CSI (the FIA's predecessor) mandated "pump petrol", which they rapidly amended to AvGas as no-one could agree on what "pump petrol" actually was. "Gasoline" was banned from Indycars for 1965, following the fiery deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave Macdonald during the previous year's Indianapolis 500 as, although the methanol used by some competitors does indeed burn with an invisible flame, petrol burns hotter and is a lot harder to put out - methanol fires can be extinguished with water.

    A cynic might argue that the banning of petrol was also intended to put a brake on the petrol-powered Lotus-Fords, which were busy demonstrating to the natives that a front-engined car with a solid rear axle, two-speed gearbox and engine whose ancestry could be traced back to the 1913 Grand Prix Peugeot was not, in fact, the state of the art ;-)

    These days IRL cars use ethanol and F1 has a complicated description of what constitutes "petrol", no doubt designed to keep the chemists on their toes after the toluene-based stuff of the turbo era was banned.

    Mr Larrington

  23. Alan Donaly

    I think I'm gonna drink it

    No offense to anyone trying to solve this

    dilemma but you can see how pointless

    it is to try and get anyone to agree to anything

    until it's too late so I think being on the downhill

    slide I will just drink the ethanol properly

    filtered and mixed of course and the cars will

    be nice statuary for our mass open air graveyard.

    You see nobody will be able to sustain the number

    of people currently alive and since thats the case

    well all die of hunger sooner rather than later

    even wars won't be much without gas. In

    other words "thats it then were all going to die"

  24. David Purveur

    This is great

    Thanks guys, what a great debate. If my half-formed and admittedly not well researched idea can spark this sort of debate here then given to the right people there has got to be a solution.

    I believe the solution could be driven by the commercial world of motor racing but I don't know what that solution would be. Given the right incentive that is what Maclaren, Ferrari et al would do. Personally I don't think the answer is in bio fuels or hydrogen but I do believe it is time to stop using fossil fuels. A ban is the only way. If the government can ban smoking from all public places on the grounds of health then surely they can exert an influence in this area. After all it is us that has become the cancer.

  25. Tibb the Cat

    "Pump Petrol"

    Based on my readings of the history of the IOM TT, "pump petrol" was a term used to describe the low-octane stuff available via the "petroleum manufacturing pool" during and immediately after WW2. 1958 seems a bit late for that, hence maybe the confusion over what it meant. Anyway, the implication was a VERY low octane blend with no chemical enhancement - I'd guess something equivalent to 90 Octane (standard UK unleaded is 95 octane). If there are any WW2 historians out there who can clarify, please do!

    Meanwhile by "gasoline" in the Indycar sense I presume you mean something like the 100 octane "5-star" needed by the original Hillman Imps? If the flames didn't get you the lead toxicity would....Beside which the stuff burnt so hot it warped the alloy cylinder heads

  26. Mr Larrington

    "Pump Petrol"

    ISTR that WW2-era "Pool Petrol" was about 80 octane. The point behind making F1/F2/F3 cars run on "petrol", though, was because the oil companies - who were among the principal financial supporters of motor racing in the days before cars were disguised as fag packets - wanted to advertise that "X won the Y Grand Prix using Gas-O-5000 - the same as you can buy from your local garage", which was a bit tricky when the cars were running on some top-secret witches brew. The CSI decided that cars should thus run on a fuel commercially available from a pump in their country of origin. Vanwall boss Tony Vandervell was rather put out at this, asking them precisely which pump they had in mind; thus after a certain amount of debate, they settled for 100/130 Avgas as this was made to a world-wide standard. I would guess that the same stuff was used by the Lotus team in Indycars - they found that while it gave rather less power than methanol (350 bhp versus 400-odd), it drank a lot less of it, thereby requiring them to make fewer pit stops.

    FWIW North Americans use different units from the rest of us, so 87 octane gasoline is equivalent to 91 or 92 over here.

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