Government indecision over the introduction of E10 a blend of fuel with up to 10% ethanol content compared with the current limit of 5% in E5 is nothing new. It was just after the London Olympics in 2012 when the then Transport Minister Norman Baker wrote to industry associations to tell them the government had changed its mind on E10. It had been expected to give the go ahead towards the end of that year, but after many consumers rejected the new fuel when it was introduced in Germany, the government decided it was too soon because it was not compatible with an estimated 20% of cars on UK roads.
Fast forward seven years and the government still can’t make up its mind. In July last year its decision to launch an eight-week consultation on the subject was met with derision and suggestions it just wanted to kick an awkward decision into the long grass.
At the time PRA chairman, Brian Madderson, said: "PRA has been entirely consistent throughout previous dialogue with government that our members are strongly opposed to the introduction of E10 until and unless it is mandated by government.
"This position was endorsed by most if not all other industry trade associations. This further consultation appears to be just another fudge by government to see if industry is minded to proceed with a voluntary introduction. Thus any backlash from motorists over increased costs from reduced mileage and/or upgrading to premium unleaded for non-compliant engines could be laid at industry’s door and not Westminster’s."
This appeared to be borne out when the government managed a response to a second part of the consultation, about fuel labelling, by the end of February, and then swiftly pushed on with the new labelling regulations currently being introduced on forecourts. At the time it said that a further response concerning E10 would be published "later in 2019", and we are still waiting.
For a government that has other major problems and can barely command a majority, the reluctance to commit to a measure that could provoke a backlash from consumers is under-standable. Its most recent consultation estimates there are still 1.4 million incompatible cars in the UK (6.8% of the petrol fleet), and E10 is also expected to result in lower mileage and higher fuel costs, all of which will whip up fuel-price zealots in the press. But there is growing pressure to go ahead because E10 is seen as part of the government’s central Road to Zero strategy for transport, and the fight to limit greenhouse gases and climate change.
One of the latest calls to implement E10 has come from Westminster, from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol, which held its own inquiry into introducing E10, and published its interim report last month. Its nine findings were:
The UK economy will likely soon lose its bioethanol industry worth £1bn if E10 is not introduced;
Introducing E10 would save the equivalent emissions of taking up to 700,000 cars off the road;
Petrol fuel sales volumes are increasing due to the diminishing popularity of diesel cars as well as a trend for bigger, less fuel-efficient petrol cars like SUVs;
E10 could assist in addressing the UK’s air quality problems;
If the British bioethanol industry is lost, the UK is unlikely to attract further international investment;
If the British bioethanol industry is lost, the UK will likely become dependent on increasingly scarce and less sustainable biofuel from abroad;
If the British bioethanol industry is lost, British farmers will need to purchase an increasing volume of animal feed from less sustainable sources;
Without E10 it is more likely that the UK will miss its fuels quality directive target and the .’buy out’ cost avoidance even with E10 is estimated at £100m perhaps more than double without E10 and these costs are likely to be passed on to motorists in fuel prices at the forecourt;
Achieving the same greenhouse gases (GHG) emission reduction that E10 would bring through electric vehicles would have a significant cost.
At the launch of the interim report, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol, Nic Dakin MP, said: "With an urgent need to address the causes of climate change, improve air quality and support job creation in emerging green industries, practical measures which make petrol cars cleaner and greener must be a top priority for the government who must now work to mandate the introduction of E10 in the UK by 2020 at the latest."
However, with the Conservative Party in the midst of a leadership election, and the issue of Brexit waiting for the winner, it looks as if a final decision on E10 could still be some time away.
New labelling backed by campaign
While the government has been dragging its feet over E10, it has rushed through new fuel labelling on pumps that could help pave the way for its introduction.
The labels have been designed to help drivers easily identify the right fuel for their vehicle, but their introduction is also being accompanied by a public information campaign,called ’Know Your Fuel’ to help drivers understand the biofuel content of the fuels they use. Blending biofuels into regular petrol and diesel reduces CO2 emissions. Petrol, which contains up to 5% renewable ethanol, will be labelled with a circular symbol saying ’E5’, while diesel, which contains up to 7% biodiesel, will be labelled with a square symbol saying ’B7’.
Forecourts are required to have the new labelling by September 1.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said the new labels are important in highlighting how biofuels reduce emissions from everyday road transport.