7 August 2007

National Express Group (NX), one of UK’s leading transport groups, has suspended its UK biodiesel bus trial due to concerns over whether the benefits of using “first generation” biodiesel fuels outweigh the risk to the sustainability of food crop sources.

NX has called a halt to the trial on its UK buses until “second generation” biofuels, which use non food crops such as wood chips and straw, are available or issues relating to the sustainability of the production have been addressed.

The decision has been taken after consultation with a number of environmental organizations including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and the Climate Group who have also raised a number of issues associated with the use of first generation biofuels. “The issue with biofuels is complex and what appears to be the green option may not actually be green after all”, said NX.

Biofuels, such as bioethanol and biodiesel, have the potential to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from transport operations. In theory biofuels can be carbon neutral as the carbon they release on combustion was taken from the atmosphere through photosynthesis as the plant grew. In practice, a number of issues exist with the first generation biofuels, including:

  • Sustainability of supply—there is a concern that current biofuel production will lead to intensive agriculture and destruction of natural habitat as existing production is displaced, and increase in cost of food in developing countries.
  • Actual benefits—as shown by a number of studies, the benefits are frequently exaggerated. In some cases biofuels can be worse in terms of CO2 emissions than traditional oil due to the energy intensive agricultural methods used.

In 2006 NX’s Spanish business Alsa ran a trial of with 10% biodiesel blend in their bus operations in Oviedo. In 2007, NX planned to run a follow up trail using 20% or 30% biodiesel blend in its UK Bus Division.

Source: National Express Group