Encouraging alternatives

GreenFuel's  Ingram Legge is familiar with the fleet sector’s apprehension towards alternative fuels, but what does he believe needs to change for this mindset to alter?


“Let us build on the work we’ve done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 per cent in the next 10 years…To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory Fuels Standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017.”

When George W Bush makes such a comment in his ‘State of the Nation’ address, you know that the environmental situation is pretty drastic, warns Ingram Legge of Greenfuel. Here he looks at how UK businesses should be careful not to criticise those across the pond before looking at their own carbon footprint…

 “It has long been felt that America does not do enough to encourage the use of alternative fuels and with gas-guzzling vehicles blocking up many of the highways across that vast country, many from the rest of the world have looked on in dismay that their own efforts are wasted by the negative effects of this major world power.

 “However, it is all very well for us to sit in our ivory or, perhaps, green tower and judge the USA. There are many who would say that the UK is also failing to meet the challenge of cutting the levels of carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles. The first and most simple way to do this is for businesses to increase the use of alternative fuels across their fleets. However, the fleet sector, at the moment is not fully embracing responsible fuels, in particular LPG.

“Boardrooms across the UK are filled with talk of environmental responsibility and becoming carbon neutral, whilst these same bosses continue to drive their diesel-fuelled, two-litre engine executive cars.  The problem facing many fleet managers is the confusion surrounding the switch to vehicles fuelled by such an alternative as LPG. With little clear support from Government, lack of clarity as to vehicle availability, performance and cost as well as concern over whether fleet drivers will be able to find a station to fill up at have, in many circumstances, left the switch to LPG on the back burner.

“In terms of Government backing, one only has to look at the success of the $2000 subsidy for an LPG car in Australia, to know that simplicity has to be the key word. The mechanisms are already in place in the UK to configure a system of reduced road tax, as a starter. Or let’s make LPG conversions VAT-free. Either of these would be simple ideas to implement. So, let’s make our unified voice heard.                  

“It’s also a question of positioning. We need to put LPG at the middle of the energy debate, halfway between traditional petroleum – and the long term dream of bio-fuels and hydrogen. It’s a waste product from fossil fuel extraction, so it’s here now and it will be here for decades to come.

“The drive to take up LPG can not solely rest with one group – Government included – and it is true that here in the UK, LPG and its advancement is being resisted, to a degree, by fuel suppliers and the vehicle manufacturers. This is very much due to a number of stumbling blocks that the industry needs to get over, rather than through a lack of desire.  For instance, the fuel suppliers' logistics supply chains are made more complicated by an increasing number of fuel types. Indeed, neither bio-ethanol, nor LPG, are able to share the fuel pipelines used across the country to transport petrol and diesel. In addition, forecourts can only accept a finite number of different fuel pumps through restrictions on forecourt size and consumer confusion with different fuels.

“However, the numbers are getting better and better, week by week. If we look at the case of LPG, nine years ago, there were only 100 LPG outlets across the country. Now, there are almost 1500. So, impracticality is becoming less of an issue for fleets. From the other side of the fence, the attitude of the vehicle manufacturers has also been one of frustration towards the first wave of environmental fuels and, in particular, LPG. A number of them entered, enthusiastically, the LPG market, in a bid to grab a slice of the fleet marketplace. But this was the mid-nineties and there was still a problem with production lead times – or ‘clock speed’. Indeed, by the time some OE systems were homologated, they were already out of date. And many dealers found that it was uneconomic to train their mechanics in LPG, given the low market take-up.

“Finally, the nature of mass car production is essentially 'clip on.’ To allow an LPG system to be an OE fit, a manufacturer has to provide the necessary bracketry to all vehicles going down the line. This is simply not economic if the take up is less than 1 in 300, which is the present level of market penetration. The answer, here, is to have a separate post production facility to convert the cars. This will only work, however, with steady demand, facilitated by a government more proactively involved in promoting a shift away from the traditional fossil fuels.

“However, once these hurdles have been jumped over, the benefits are clear. Although maintenance costs of an LPG car are marginally greater than a standard model, fuel costs are dramatically reduced. Although LPG gives fewer miles per gallon, the costs to fill up are far less – only 43p per litre, compared to 88p of more for petrol or diesel alternatives. Consequently, businesses that invest in LPG vehicles can expect to cut their annual fuel costs by a significant 40 per cent. When this is added to reduced VED and class 1a National Insurance liability, the switch to LPG becomes well worth investigating.  

“With a little imagination from fleet managers and more of a lead from central government, LPG could and should be playing a more central role on the UK fleet stage. Only then can we truly sit in judgment of our American counterparts.”

Ingram Legge is managing director of GreenFuel

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