AS sales of biofuel rocket in the UK, more fleets are taking an interest.
The government want 5% of all fuel sold to be biodiesel or bioethanol by 2010/11. This will be made up of biofuel added to traditional diesel and petrol.
But for some, the limited reduction in CO2 emissions offered by part-biofuel supplies is not enough. One such person is Arran Brennan, who runs a chauffeur fleet fuelled entirely on biodiesel. The foundations of his business – Alternative Cars, based in Ealing, London – began when he read a book called The Weather Makers.
Author Tim Flannery’s views on how man is changing the climate so alarmed Mr Brennan that he was spurred into taking action. At the time, he worked as a chauffeur and felt he was well placed to create a chauffeur business of his own that minimised its effect on the environment.
‘I DECIDED to do something along the lines of airport transfers or a courier service, but I wasn’t sure whether to get hybrid cars, LPG or what’ Mr Brennan says.
‘I’d spoken to an American chap a couple of years ago that ran his car on straight vegetable oil. I did some research on the web and found out you could put it into a diesel vehicle without any modifications.’
Inspired, Mr Brennan contacted drivers he knew with their own cars – all Volkswagens and Audis.
‘We didn’t have much money to start off with so we employed owner-drivers,’ he says.
‘We educated them and took them from using normal diesel to biodiesel.
‘We now have 10 cars but we’re growing pretty quickly. We targeted Volkswagen and Audi because their warranty is good with biodiesel – their TDI engines work very well with it and not every diesel engine can.
‘Some of the newer engines are not so good with biodiesel because they have different styles of injectors so we’re using vehicles that are a couple of years old.’
ALTHOUGH a small number of filling stations are starting to offer biodiesel as a percentage of regular fuel, getting hold of 100% biodiesel is a trickier proposition and Alternative Cars uses a specialist supplier that Mr Brennan found on the web.
‘We came across a company online that delivers direct to our office for 78 pence per litre, which makes using it financially beneficial compared to normal diesel,’ he says.
‘It’s all EN-standard compliant, filtered from vegetable oil to ensure there’s no water content that could damage the engine.
‘We have an industrial unit with a garage where we keep the fuel store. It’s non-hazardous so there’s no licence needed – it’s non-flammable up to 150°C.’
The fuel is delivered in 1,000- litre tanks. At the moment, Alternative Cars has its own electric pump to fill up its vehicles direct from the tank, but Mr Brennan says that as the business expands it may be necessary to install a filling station and have fuel delivered by tanker.
While delivery from an independent supplier is a great solution for smaller fleets, Mr Brennan says firms with hundred of vehicles would struggle to achieve the same results.
‘It’s a limited supply at the moment,’ he says.
‘There’s never going to be enough waste vegetable oil for mainstream fleets to use.’
ALTHOUGH it has only been operating for a matter of months, Alternative Cars is attracting considerable attention from big businesses keen to promote their green agendas.
Mr Brennan says: ‘Government agencies have to reduce emissions and corporations are trying to go carbon neutral.
‘We’re a solution, as opposed to being part of the problem. If you can offer the same service at the same price but in an environmentally-friendly way, why wouldn’t someone use us?
‘We do get calls from the public – we’ve had quite a lot of local news attention – but the majority of our work is turning out to be corporate.’
ALTERNATIVE Cars shows that it is possible to run a fleet on 100% biodiesel – if only a small one at present.
And a major issue is the type of car that can run on it. Older diesel engines are more suited to biodiesel, and Mr Brennan’s fleet is ageing. New cars present a problem due to their advanced diesel engine technology and complex injectors will not run as well on vegetable oil
‘I think we’re going to have to purchase ex-fleet cars with nice leather interiors – Passats, A6s and Sharans, that kind of thing,’ Mr Brennan says. ‘In a couple of years, we will have to look at other options as the current new engines are not so good at coping with 100% biodiesel.
‘We would like to have brand new vehicles, but if manufacturers don’t take biodiesel seriously I don’t know what we’re going to do. It’s becoming more of a known fuel and I’m hoping the biodiesel future will be strong.
‘Bioethanol isn’t as environmentally-friendly because of the process used to make it, so we need to come up with answers.’