Ever since it became widely known that you can run a diesel-engined road vehicle on used vegetable oil, all sorts of people have touted it as the cure for all our pollution-related ills. Well guess what: it ain’t.
Okay, it could help with our environmental problems. If used vegetable oil was recycled as fuel on a large scale, it would cut back on our need to drill for oil and stuff. A little. And it wouldn’t be dumped in land-fill, as it is at the moment. But that’s about it: vegetable oil works just the same as diesel, so all those vehicles driving round on it would still produce all those nasty emissions that are apparently going to kill us all. The main arguments for the use of vegetable oil are that it would decrease land-fill a bit, and it would cost less for the vehicle owners (especially in countries like the UK, where we are mugged by the tax-man every time we pull into a filling station. And I’m sure the government would find a way to tax the use of veg oil, negating that last plus point).
So large-scale use of biofuel hasn’t got much in the way of green credentials. And it’s absolutely packed with terrible problems. For instance, a lot of crops are now being grown for the lucrative biofuel market rather than for food. This is happening all over the place, but one example is Africa, where the change in crop use is leading directly to a rise in food costs and related famine. And far from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it’s actually causing these emissions to increase. It’s argued that deforestation could rise as local farmers clear land in order to grow the biofuel crops. And the environmental claims made about biofuels could lead car manufacturers to cut back on research and development of electrically-powered vehicles. Not good.
So who’s to blame for this? The governments and peoples of the nations concerned, of course. But the Guardian has discovered that British companies are investing heavily in biofuel production in Africa. And the EU in general has non-green blood on its hands too, with its laws that require an increase in blending biofuels into mainstream vehicle fuels. A Nuffield Council on Bioethics commission has called these laws as unethical and “backfiring badly”.
So you all need to get it into your heads: biofuels are not green and promotion of their use is unethical. Got that? In the near-future, we need to develop good electric cars. Eventually, hydrogen fuel-cells will have developed to a point where we can run our cars on virtually nothing but water. But for now, if you’re tempted to use biofuel, stick to using oils that have been recycled from fast food joints and restaurants. That way, it’ll be slightly more green than DERV from the filling station. But not by much.