YEARS of work to encourage fleets to adopt alternative fuels are being put at risk in an increasingly bitter battle to win Government support for competing clean energies.
While fleet decision-makers are looking for a guiding hand to point to a secure and long-term alternative to petrol and diesel, the Government has taken a step back from the battle, insisting it can't help companies make a decision.
Instead, British business is being bombarded by a series of claims and counter claims about modern fuels that could make doing nothing seem like the safest option. In the past week, two conflicting reports have been published, offering support for one clean fuel and criticising another.
The influential Institute of Public Policy Research, in a new document called 'Tomorrow's Low Carbon Cars' warns that the 'case for liquefied petroleum gas will grow increasingly weak. Compared to the latest petrol car, LPG offers no air quality benefit. Compared to diesel, LPG offers no carbon dioxide emissions advantage.'
It recommends that from 2004, the Government should gradually abandon its fuel duty reduction for LPG, which currently costs it £50 million a year. Instead it argues that biodiesel should be given more support through tax breaks, because of its greater environmental benefits, a statement welcomed by biodiesel producers.
But on the same day the report was published, the LPG Association revealed its own findings challenging the credibility of biodiesel as an alternative fuel. Its research claimed that the large scale incineration of bi-products from biodiesel manufacturer wiped out any greenhouse gas advantages.
Tom Fidell of the LPGA, said: 'LPG is much cleaner than diesel and biodiesel, particularly with priority pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen and particles. And there are new reports from Germany which indicate that vast amounts of glycerin, the bi-product of biodiesel, are simply being incinerated. Once that is taken into account, the claimed greenhouse gas advantages of biodiesel largely evaporate.'
The two reports are the first shots in what promises to be a hard-fought battle to influence Government thinking on its future support of alternative fuels. Last week, Fleet News reported that the Government had issued a consultation document to examine whether to continue with fuel duty cuts for gaseous fuels, including LPG. But the Government is determined to remain impartial, leaving fleets to make up their own minds.
Speaking at the Green Transport 2003 conference in Birmingham last week, Leslie Packer, divisional manager, transport environment and taxation for the Department for Transport, said that fleets should not discount hybrid vehicles.
At the event, Colin Matthews, head of customer services for TransportEnergy, a division of the Energy Saving Trust, working on behalf of the Government to improve the quality of our environment, summarised the rocketing choice list facing fleets.
He said: 'There is a lot of talk about fuel cells, and a lot of people have said 'I'll wait', but we are talking 2020 and beyond, and that's just the vehicle side. What do we do while we are waiting? Petrol and diesel are improving, and biodiesel will come to the marketplace. It's about having a portfolio of fuels.'