Volvo backs down in row over ‘green’ diesel scare

Volvo Car UK has withdrawn claims that emissions from bio-diesel fuel, which comes from rape seed, are ten times more carcinogenic than those from standard low-sulphur diesel.

Volvo Car UK was this week forced to withdraw claims that emissions from bio-diesel fuel, which comes from rape seed, are ten times more carcinogenic than those from standard low-sulphur diesel.

In an acrimonious exchange between the bio-diesel lobby and Volvo, the car firm made claims about the cancer risk in response to a report promoting bio-diesel as ‘the fuel of the future.’

But on Wednesday this week, Volvo issued a statement that said the Swedish research results on which its claims were based were ‘not directly comparable with bio-diesel emissions and diesel engines.’

‘Therefore, Volvo wishes to clarify its position and understands that further studies are continuing in this particular area,’ the statement said.

Under the government’s Green Fuel Challenge, bio-diesel, which is made from rape seed oil, was given a duty rate to set the price 20p below that of ultra low sulphur diesel fuels.

In the UK the fuel is championed as ‘splendidly green’ by the British Association of Bio-Fuels and Oils, an organisation funded by those in the rape seed oil production industries.

Volvo’s claim on the cancer risks of bio-diesel, made by Volvo UK’s environmental manager John Pitts, prompted an angry response from BABFO chairman Peter Clery. He accused the car giant of having an agenda to promote the use of liquid petroleum gas or compressed natural gas at bio-diesel’s expense. Volvo is introducing a new range of bi-fuel vehicles in the Autumn, which can run on these gases.

Volvo denied the claim. ‘There’s no commercial axe to grind here. Putting it bluntly, there is no commercial competition from bio-diesel. And we’re not saying LPG or CNG are solving the problems of global warming either,’ said Pitt.

But Volvo is sticking by its other criticisms of bio-diesel, which it says is less fuel efficient, compromises performance, requires higher maintenance costs, impacts on bio-diversity and may never be supplied in sufficient quantities.

The research behind Volvo UK’s cancer claim was first published a number of months ago. It was carried out by the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg in 1999.

Clery said further research commissioned by BABFO in 1999 ‘proved’ Volvo’s allegations were false. He said: ‘The Swedish research was lab work and not engine work, which is what must be done.’

A treasury spokesman said bio-diesel had been chosen for the lower duty rate because a treasury environmental audit had determined its green credentials.

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