Green shoots

This week brought another couple of skirmishes in the battle to turn us from a nation of gas-guzzlers into something more green.

Firstly, customers at a supermarket petrol forecourt in Norwich will soon become the first in the UK to have the option of filling up on E85 bioethanol, the environmentally benign fuel derived from crops. Other local stations are set to follow, making the Norfolk city, for now at least, the biofuel motoring capital of Britain.

To take advantage of this, of course, you will need to drive one of the handful of cars able to run on E85 from the likes of Saab or Ford.

There are, as far as we know, no figures available for the number of biofuel-ready motorists in the Norwich area, but it is a fair bet that queues at the pumps in question will hardly stretch around the block.

That isn’t, however, a reason for not opening a pump. The car manufacturers at one end of the chain, and the fledgling ‘green fuels’ industry at the other, are beginning the tricky process of creating a demand and a supply respectively.

What’s the point of having a biofuel-ready car if there’s no biofuel to put in it? Norfolk is the pump-primer (if you’ll pardon the pun) because it has regional agricultural capacity growing the stuff needed to make biofuel, and processing facilities to produce it.

From little acorns etc. The second piece of enviro-news concerned BMW, which announced further plans to push on with series production of hydrogen vehicles.

The German auto giant will have a hydrogen-powered 7-series executive model ready within two years, it said this week, and underlined its commitment to hydrogen across its range over the longer term.

It’s possible that Norwich will see hydrogen pumps soon, making it the green car capital of Europe, but the point is the same. Without an infrastructure, these alternatives to petrol and diesel have no hope of flourishing.

The automotive OEMs, the energy majors and the fuel retailers can all play their part, but the critical role will, as so often, be down to the government.

Around the world the lesson is the same. If governments are serious about creating demand for alternative energy and power technologies, they need to put their money, in the form of tax breaks, subsidies and other incentives, where their mouth is.