FOOD, AND FUEL, FOR THOUGHT ; Alternative Energy Sources Vegetable Oil Has Emerged from the Larder as a Cheap, Eco-Friendly Alternative to Dwindling Fossil Fuels but Its Supporters Are Outraged at New Tax Hikes That May Stop Them in Their Tracks
Duff, Oliver, The Independent (London, England)
The bottle of vegetable oil has had a mundane existence up to now. Relegated in the popular imagination to the greasy task of frying chips, it hardly seems the likely source of an environmental revolution set to change the way we drive.
Yet thousands of British motorists have chosen to abandon garage forecourt pumps and run their vehicles on waste vegetable-oil from pubs and restaurants, or pure oil off the shop shelf.
The logic behind this apparent madness is that using the oil cuts a vehicle's carbon emissions. If widely practised, it might slow global warming. It is cheaper than diesel, supports local entrepreneurs (by keeping fuel money in Britain) and reduces our reliance on fast-dwindling petrochemical resources. The politically minded "veg-oily" also boasts of how he has "opted out of George Bush's war for oil" in Iraq.
The practice took off during the winter 2000 fuel crisis, when truckers and farmers barricaded fuel depots in protest at rising prices. Unbeknown to the Government, a handful of campaigners took it upon themselves to break motoring convention and fill their tanks with the yellow liquid. Fuel crisis over, they saw no reason to stop the cheap and green experiment.
The first signs of what was then an underground movement could be observed in the aisles of Asda in Swansea. Men in grimy overalls were making furtive repeat-trips to the supermarket, filling their trolleys with 12 litres of vegetable oil at a time.
Staff thought it was just "one of those things", even though sales of the cheapest brand were 20 per cent up on the previous year, much higher than any other British store. "We thought they were doing a lot of frying," said Mike Hebson, store manager. "Healthy eating has not hit Swansea in a big way."
The alarm was raised only when transport inspectors, carrying out spot checks, discovered a car half-full of cooking oil. The driver said he had been buying it from the supermarket for 42p a litre for months - considerably cheaper than the 73p a litre that heavily discounted diesel retailers were charging -and that his engine ran beautifully, without any need for modifications. Unimpressed, officials impounded his car and fined him pounds 500 for not paying fuel duty.
The problem with veg-oil motoring - aside from the more tricky process of buying oil in bulk, and the possibility of engine clogging if used with the wrong type of fuel-injection pump - is that the Government is cracking down on such environmental entrepreneurship. Facing allegations of mass tax evasion among motorists in south Wales, police were forced to set up "frying squads" of detectives to sniff out offending exhaust pipes and apprehend the drivers. An international media witch-hunt descended on the region.
To the credit of the veg-oil motoring pioneers, they have brought the movement above board in the past two years. "We realised we had to make it mainstream and do everything legally if it was going to have a real impact on the environment," said Dominic Goodwin, a Kent businessman who runs his modified car on pure veg-oil that he buys from a cash-and-carry store.
So more than 450 biofuel and fuel substitute producers registered with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC). Many more came clean and acknowledged they had to pay the 27.1p a litre fuel duty demanded by law the moment they poured cooking oil into their tanks.
Now they accuse the Government of betrayal, however. HMRC has thrown a proverbial spanner into the works, stalling efforts to keep veg-oilies on the right side of the law, by dramatically raising duty on veg-oil used as a fuel to 47.1p a litre. The decision threatens to bankrupt the burgeoning word-of-mouth backyard industry and drive its devotees to illegal cowboy garages.
"This will send a lot of us back underground," said one driver. "We want to help the …
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Publication information: Article title: FOOD, AND FUEL, FOR THOUGHT ; Alternative Energy Sources Vegetable Oil Has Emerged from the Larder as a Cheap, Eco-Friendly Alternative to Dwindling Fossil Fuels but Its Supporters Are Outraged at New Tax Hikes That May Stop Them in Their Tracks. Contributors: Duff, Oliver - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 23, 2006. Page number: 16. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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