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For long journeys in the UK, we generally prefer to go by train. This is mainly because
it is (normally) more relaxing and safer than driving. But the UK rail system is
in such a mess that there is often a penalty in high prices, unreliable service
and squalid conditions (Britain invented railways - hooray!). Trains are more fuel efficient
cars but, in the main, they are still powered by fossil fuels. At a personal
level, there is not much we can do about this but we look forward to trains
being run on biofuel or powered by green electricity.
One of us (GW) does not use local buses very much, mainly because of experiencing them to be somewhat infrequent and unreliable. For journeys up to three miles, we often walk.
As of late 2006, both of us have signed a no-fly pledge—no flying except in emergency. We would like to see new developments
that would eliminate net emissions of greenhouse gases from this source (eg the
'Cryoplane'). Environmental taxes on air travel are badly needed, but are not optimistic.
We would like to use our bicycles more but sharing the road with motor
traffic is both dangerous and unpleasant. Britain badly needs to catch up with
countries like Holland and Germany in the provision of traffic-free routes for
cyclists. It is a scandal that the Government is not building a national
cycling network in the same way that it makes provision for cars -- it is
leaving the job to a charity (Sustrans).
We don't wish to see yet more countryside torn up to make way for cars but
there is no escaping the fact that for many purposes, cars are very convenient.
We each run a car and use them mainly for local journeys. We
are keen to find ways of running cars that eliminate CO2 emissions.
For one of our cars, we now have a solution.
Apparently, Ford have designed an electric version of their small 'Ka' that
will do 120 miles on one overnight charge. But, for some reason, it is not being
sold in the UK. We have not yet found an electric car for sale in the UK
although we have seen references to one or two models available at rather high
An electric car that could do even as little as 50 miles on one charge would
be quite attractive for us. We rarely do more than that distance in a day. The
car would be charged from our 'green' electricity supply so it would largely
eliminate CO2 emissions from local car journeys.
We are being promised cars with fuel cells and electric motors but
there is no sign of them yet in the UK. If this kind of car were run on methanol
derived from plants or on hydrogen from some source that did not involve the
release of 'fossil' CO2, it would be something to look at.
We are potential customers for the MDI
Air Car. These run on compressed air and need to be 'pumped
up' overnight using an electric motor. As with electric vehicles, we could use
our 'green' electricity supply. Here is a YouTube vido about the MIDI Air Car.
Sadly, these cars are not yet available in the UK. We could go to France
where they are being made but we would probably have to make do with a left-hand
drive version. It sounds as if they might be quite reasonably priced when they
do come up for sale in the UK.
For short local journeys, another option is G-Wiz.
Tax breaks and other incentives are
needed to get this market started (but see Powershift).
Links: Electric Vehicles UK, Powershift (Energy Saving
Trust), Solar electric car
to shine at auto show, Project Better Place.
A hybrid car has a Diesel or petrol engine that charges a battery that runs
an electric motor. It sounds crazy but apparently it is more efficient than a
conventional engine, mainly because the Diesel or petrol engine can run a
constant, optimal speed. Also, the Diesel or petrol engine can be switched off
in the middle of town or anywhere else where exhaust fumes need to be reduced.
If a hybrid car were run on biodiesel (or SVO) it would yield zero net CO2.
Hybrid cars are just beginning to appear in the UK.
One of the most interesting developments is the idea of combining the
concepts of 'electric' and 'hybrid' cars (a 'hybrid-hybrid'?). 'Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles' (PHEVs) are
simply hybrid vehicles with batteries that are big enough to allow the car to
run in purely electric mode for much of the time. During the night or at other
times when the car is not being driven, it may be plugged into the mains and
charged up. Then, for distances within the capacity of the battery, the car may
be driven in purely electric mode. Provided the electricity is 'green', there
will be zero CO2 emissions (and zero emissions of other pollutants
that are produced by internal combustion engines).
One advantage of this idea is that, unlike a car that is totally electric,
there is always power available for longer journeys or if the car needs to be
used when the battery is flat.
PHEVs raise the fascinating possibility that they can be used to make the
electricity distribution grid operate more efficiently. When they are plugged
in, following the principle of 'dynamic
demand', they can be programmed to detect when the distribution grid
is overloaded and avoid drawing current at those times. Even more interestingly,
PHEVs can be used as a source of power to feed electricity into the grid to meet
peaks of demand: at such times, the non-electric
motors of plugged-in PHEVs are started and they can then feed extra power into
the grid. Naturally, this would be best outside any garage or other building so that exhaust
fumes do not build up.
Yet another interesting possibility is to power PHEVs at least partly by the
sun. With falling prices and improved efficiencies of photovoltaic solar panels,
it will become increasingly attractive to fit them to the roofs of PHEVs. At all
times when the vehicle is exposed to daylight, either parked or driving and even
on cloudy days, the batteries may be charged from the PV panels.
This market needs encouragement.
Links: Powershift (Energy Saving
Trust), Intelligent Energy.
Biodiesel and straight vegetable oil
Biodiesel is vegetable oil that has been processed so that it can be used in
any Diesel engine. It can be made from fresh vegetable oil or from waste cooking
oil from chip shops, bakeries, hotels etc. There are potential objections to biofuels but they
certainly have a place as a stop-gap solution and, with certain constraints, are
likely to be part of any long-term solution to the problem of climate change.
As of late August, 2002, we have traded in one our petrol-engine cars for one
with a Diesel engine. We have also taken delivery of 200 litres of biodiesel from Goat
Industries, with a 200 litre tank to store it in. More recently, we have
been using V100 from Bio-Power. Most of the year, the car
runs perfectly without any adaptation and the fuel can be mixed in any
proportion with conventional diesel fuel. However, we have an electric heater
for the fuel line (from Plymouth Bio-Fuels) which is sometimes needed if the weather gets very cold.
The car now carries large
notices on both sides and the back advertising the fact that "This car runs
on BIO-DIESEL, cutting CO2 and
costs", with the address of this web site. Here is a photo of the car with Marianne and
me (left and right of the group), Rick Mills (of Môn
a Gwynedd Friends of the Earth), and Mr and Mrs Fitzpatrick (and baby),
proprietors of one of the cafés that
supplies used cooking oil to Goat
Industries for conversion to biodiesel.
It is also possible to run cars on straight vegetable oil (SVO). From an
environmental point of view, this is attractive because no unpleasant chemicals
are needed to convert the oil to biodiesel and more of the energy in the
original oil gets used for powering the car. From a personal viewpoint, it is
less attractive because it is necessary to adapt the Diesel engine, and the
process of starting the engine and stopping it is more fiddly (but see comments
above about V100). Dr Rudolph
Diesel's original designs were intended for SVO (peanut oil). It would be good
if car makers would adapt their engine designs so that SVO could used in a
straightforward way once again.
From July 2002, the tax on biodiesel and SVO has been reduced from 46 p / litre to
about 25 p / litre. It is now slightly cheaper to run a car on biodiesel than on
fossil diesel. If you would like to lobby for a
further reduction in the duty on biodiesel and SVO (preferably to the
preferential rate currently applied to LPG of 6 p / litre) email firstname.lastname@example.org.
petition asking the Government to reduce or remove the tax on
vegetable oil when used as a roadfuel.
Costs of biofuels compared with conventional
Links: Bio-Power, Allied Biodiesel Industries
Industries, e-diesel, Veg-Oil-Car.com, Biofuels for Sustainable Transport, British Association for Bio Fuels
and Oils, Veggiepower, Veggie
Shell announced on 8th May 2002 that it has purchased an equity stake in Iogen Corporation, a bioethanol
technology company. They say "Bioethanol, when blended with gasoline, is one of
a range of environmentally friendly fuels Shell is exploring as it has the
potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions of vehicles." An
attraction of the Iogen process is that it makes ethanol from plant wastes such
as straw which are otherwise burned or dumped.
Like other biofuels, bioethanol
needs to be taxed at a level that encourages drivers to use it.
Links: ACOS process, Iogen.
This is a major headache. At present, there is no clear alternative to
kerosene with jet engines as the means of powering airoplanes and this
technology releases large amounts of fossil CO2 into the atmosphere.
There are efforts to develop planes fuelled by liquid hydrogen (the 'Cryoplane')
but this looks like a distant prospect and there are, in any case, worries about
the greenhouse effect of water vapour in the exhaust gases. Of course, the
hydrogen must come from renewable sources.
Until there is some effective technological fix for the damage caused by
flying, there should be strict controls on the amount of flying that is allowed.
In principle, many journeys can be saved by greater use of internet
conferencing. It has shortcomings compared with face-to-face meetings but it
also has advantages (eg saving time and money) and in many cases it will serve
Links: Flight Pledge Union, NoFly Travel
Apart from worries about fossil CO2 released by ships, there are
growing concerns about the cost of fossil fuels for ships. Some interesting
possibilities for the future are described in the sources under 'Links', next.
Links: SkySails, SolarSailor, E/S Orcelle concept
vessel from Wallenius Wilhelmsen.
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