5 bioethanol producers, 3 manufacturers and a 4 year programme are co-ordinating on BEST (BioEthanol for Sustainable Transport). As you can perhaps tell from the rather lame acronym, this is an EU-supported programme. It also involves Saab, Ford of Europe, Omni/Scania, 5 bioethanol producers and 4 universities. The purpose? To break bioethanol out into the European market. Sweden may have gone crazy for it, but it remains a very fringe event for the rest of Europe.
The aim is to change that. The first phase, launched in Stockholm last week, aims for at least 140 bioethanol pumps in at least eight European cities. This, it is hoped, will lead to 10,000 bioethanol cars being on the road as demonstrators. Saab and Ford are at the forefront of this. Saab is giving cars and knowledge; Ford is setting up projects involving bioethanol production and a bioethanol fleet in Somerset and other European locations. You can read about the Flexifuel Focus in our First Drives.
The advantages of bioethanol are that it puts out approximately 65 per cent less CO2 than conventional fuels: the CO2 produced during driving is balanced by the CO2 taken out of the atmosphere by the crops when they grew. This leads to another benefit: Sweden, not unlike Britain, is in need of more rural jobs. Bioethanol production could be a major boost to the British rural economy. Having only been launched in July last year, the Saab 9-5 BioPower is outselling all other eco-friendly vehicles combined in Sweden. UK deliveries of the Saab 9-5 BioPower commence in March 2006.
However, the Swedish government charges no tax on biofuel, exempts biofuel cars from the Stockholm congestion charge, makes them 20 per cent cheaper to insure, reduces the tax for personal and fleet users and gives them free parking. It remains to be seen what will happen in the UK, where the government’s promise of five per cent of all motorcar fuel coming from renewable sources by 2010 seems a little weak. The attitude of the oil industry - not exactly keen on biofuels - will also be critical.