By 2010, Darling has announced plans for 5% of all fuel sold in the UK to come from a renewable source.
The move, known as the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, is predicted to save one million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking one million vehicles off the road, as part of official environmental commitments to tackling global warming.
Darling claims drivers will see little impact, as the fuel, made from crops like the oilseed rape and wheat, will be mixed with traditional petrol and diesel before it is sold at the pumps, ensuring engines do not need adapting.
Most manufacturers accept a 5% mix without any impact on the vehicle warranty. To meet the 2010 targets, there will need to be a 20-fold increase in sales over today’s levels, which are about 10 million litres a month.
Although the Government targets seem ambitious, they are still below targets set by the European Union.
The EU Biofuels Directive set targets for biofuel use of 2% by 2005 (the UK has achieved a fraction of that) and 5.75% by 2010.
Darling launched a consultation on the plan last week during the Environmentally Friendly Vehicles Conference in Birmingham.
He said: ‘Taking action to tackle climate change is essential. This initiative will help reduce the impact of transport on climate change and bring environmental benefits for all.’
To coincide with the launch, the Government published the results of a feasibility study, setting out how the obligation will work.
Production capacity for biofuels is limited and officials say it must come from sustainable resources – so pulping entire forests to meet demand is out.
The Government has already provided support for biofuels with a 20 pence per litre duty reduction compared to traditional petrol and diesel.
The move was welcomed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, but it said it needed to be available at a comprehensive number of sites and be cheaper than traditional fuels for the long-term to drive demand.
Fleets are already making the switch. The National Blood Service has launched a ground-breaking initiative to run the whole of its 500-vehicle fleet on biodiesel, while a number of police forces and other public sector fleets have also shown a keen interest.
Larry Bannon, national fleet manager for NBS, said using biodiesel had helped the service’s environmental credentials.
He said: ‘The main plus points for use have always been the reduction of our CO2 emissions output. The only problem we have faced has been the supply network.
‘Improving that throughout England and Wales would make a real difference.’