The pressure on fuel retailers to open their eyes to alternative fuels was squeezed a little harder last month when Morrisons announced the opening of the UK’s first bioethanol E85 fuel pump. The launch, on Morrisons’ site in Albion Way, Norwich, was timed to coincide with the first deliveries of the Saab 9-5 BioPower flex-fuel car, officially launched last November.

Phil Maud, Morrisons’ petrol director, said the opening of the bioethanol pump reinforced the company’s position as the UK’s largest forecourt retailer of alterntive fuels, and other Morrisons sites were already being earmarked to sell it. The initial Norwich location was chosen because of the region’s role in spearheading the UK bio-fuels industry.

"We believe by encouraging the use of BioEthanol E85 we can contribute to a reduction in the harmful effects to the environment caused by the burning of fossil fuels," said Maud. "Furthermore, creating demand for this product will, in the medium to long term, present major opportunities for UK farmers, who have always had strong support from Morrisons, to supply their excess cereals capacity to supply bioethanol manufacturers."

The fuel is branded as Harvest BioEthanol E85, and is supplied by Futura Petroleum in an initiative supported by the Energy Saving Trust and Renewables East. It is currently being rolled out at nine other forecourts - four in the east of England, and five sites in Somerset. It will sell for two pence per litre less than petrol.

The new Saab makes an easy choice for motorists wanting to ’do their bit’ for the green movement, without changing their motoring habits or inconveniencing themselves too much, as it can run on either the bioethanol fuel - which is a blend of 85% bioethanol and 15% petrol - or on pure petrol, without any adjustment. In fact the higher octane of the bioethanol, in combination with Saab’s turbocharging technology and engine management systems, produces a 20 per cent gain in brake horse power and 16 per cent growth in torque. Saab also claims that emissions are typically between 50-70% cleaner when running on BioEthanol 85 than when running on normal petrol.

Jonathan Nash, managing director of Saab Great Britain, said: "Biofuels can play a crucial role in reducing CO2 emissions from passenger cars, and as the Government itself said when it announced plans for a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) in November, a five per cent use of biofuels today would be equivalent to taking one million cars off the road. Although I welcome the positive steps that the British Government has taken so far in its introduction of a 5% RTFO and the 20ppl tax rebate on biofuels, our experience in other markets shows that the Government needs to take a more strategic approach. Government should show genuine joined-up thinking, by introducing an integrated package of long-term incentives to give consumers the confidence to make the switch to greener fuels, including BioEthanol E85."

He explained that in Sweden, central and local government financial incentives to encourage bioethanol-fuelled cars - including a reduction in company car tax, exemption from Stockholm’s congestion charges and free city parking - had resulted in over 5,500 Saab 9-5 BioPower cars already being delivered to Swedish drivers since last summer.


The opening of the Morrisons bioethanol pump prompted the Energy Saving Trust to call on retailers to support the growing biofuels market. Spreading the word about biofuels is a practical route forward since we already have the refuelling infrastructure in the form of petrol stations and fuel tanks - it’s an easy step for both retailers and consumers.

Tim Curtis, the Energy Saving Trust’s director of operations, applauded Morrisons’ commitment to deliver cleaner fuels to its customers and urged other retailers to follow suit, offering grant funding to support future development of such projects. Its grant programme supports the development of refuelling and recharging stations for alternatively powered vehicles in the UK and is intended to encourage the uptake of the cleanest, lowest-carbon vehicles. The grants are funded by the Department for Transport, with support from the Scottish Executive, with a grant budget of £690,000. The grants aim to help increase the market for alternative fuels such as hydrogen and biofuels, bioethanol and biogas, providing both businesses and consumers with more options for choosing cleaner, low-carbon vehicles. Said Curtis: "The opening of the Morrisons bioethanol pump sends an imporant message to both businesses and consumers that retailers and manufacturers are taking the carbon challenge seriously and finding real solutions to reduce increasing CO2 emissions from road transport."


- A liquid fuel, similar to petrol, made from grown crops - normally sugar beet, sugar cane or wheat.

- Has the potential to be made from wood, straw and even household waste in the future.

- Essentially alcohol - denatured so it is unfit for consumption.

- Can be blended with petrol in varying quantities depending upon spec requirements - can be used in all cars at 5% blend and new cars at 10% blend.

- Delivers better driving performance - pure ethanol has an octane of 109 RON.

- Tailpipe emission marginally lower than petrol, but offset by way in which the fuel is ’grown’, so approximately 50% reduction in carbon emissions.

- Currently supplied from Brazil - where it has been used for 30 years - but will be supplied from the UK and Europe in the next 18 months, reducing reliance on crude oil supplies.

- Currently less fuel efficient and costly to run.

- Limited vehicle choice - Saab 9-5 BioPower and Ford Focus FFV, however more vehicle manufacturers to start supplying this year.

- In Sweden more than 80% of Saab 9-5 and Ford Focus cars sold can run on E85 BioEthanol.


Fuels of the Future was the topic for one of the Forecourt Live! lunchtime sessions at last month’s International Forecourt & Fuel Equipment Exhibition at the NEC.

Paul Oxford, key account manager from Autogas Ltd, explained that autogas - the commercial term for liquefied petroleum gas - is readily available across the UK, unlike many alternative fuels which are in the early stages. He said autogas had strong green and economic credentials - in London, certain LPG vehicles are exempt from the Congestion Charge; it costs £1,600 to £1,800 to convert a petrol vehicle - recoverable with the low cost of autogas compared to petrol. Refuelling and performance were also akin to a petrol-driven vehicle. "About eight million vehicles use LPG worldwide, " he said. "In the UK there are 128,000 vehicles running on LPG; and 1,263 autogas refuelling points around the country." The market generates 17 million litres of sales a month; fuel duty reduction is 4.5ppl.

Simon Davis, head of UK sales at Futura Petroleum, said his company’s involvement with Morrisons’ launch of BioEthanol E85, was very much a chicken and egg situation. "Vehicle manufacturers aren’t likely to launch the vehicles unless the fuels are there to put into the cars, and vice versa. So a combination of Morrisons, Saab and ourselves decided to put our ’necks on the block’ to get it moving." He said bioethanol content would be obligated by both UK and European governments under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation. "This is here now, and is only going to increase in terms of its importance to the forecourt operator," he said. Bioethanol currently gets a 20ppl duty rebate compared to unleaded. Requirements at site level include stainless steel tank probes; new seals, gaskets and hoses on pipe and pumps - about £4,000 a site. Other than that, it uses the same infrastructure as unleaded petrol. "There will be low demand to start with," said Davis. "It’s always going to a niche product, but potentially a very big niche."

Tristan Haynes of the Marches Energy Agency, a not-for-profit organisation briefed to reduce carbon emissions in the west Midlands region, talked about his involvement in the project which has established a network of eight independent dealers selling biodiesel - the renewable fuel produced from oil seed rape or waste vegetable oil - called the Shropshire B5 biodiesel network.

"The independent sector currently have the advantage that they can sell B5, because the oil majors don’t stock it - an advantage that could drop off by 2010 as the oil companies will be required by law to supply it. But even then there could well be a niche market for locally-produced fuel as there is with food."