Friday, October 16, 2009

"The Not-So Sweet Truth of Sugar Fuel."

The title is that of the headline in today's "getreading" local newspaper. The latter aptly refers not only to the assimilation of information by the process reading, but also to the town of Reading, across the River Thames from the village of Caversham where I live in south east England, where today one can read about Reading Council's efforts to run its local bus-fleet on biofuels. The article claims that council bosses are left with red faces because said buses were not, as proudly claimed, being run on bioethanol produced "from sugar beet from Norfolk", but rather from wood pulp imported from Sweden, which it must be admitted is rather further afield.

To compound the issue, the council has told the Reading Transport Board (who run Reading Buses) that the bioethanol fuelled buses will be switched to run on biodiesel in view of "the high price of the inefficient bio-ethanol fuel." The article continues to say that, "although bio-ethanol fuel is only 2.61% more expensive than bio-diesel, the bio-ethanol powered buses are a staggering 44.5% less fuel-efficient. This makes them twice as expensive to run than a bio-diesel bus."

"The bus fuel bill is expected to drop from £390,000 a year to £226,000 after the fuel conversion."

Transport spokesman and conservative councillor Richard Willis commented on his blog yesterday: "I suspect this won't exactly help Reading Transport's chances of winning an innovative award on 12 November for the introduction of bio-ethanol buses."

Which is a shame if they have simply been misinformed, "but by whom?", is the question being robustly asked by all political sides.

Related Reading.
"The not-so sweet truth of sugar fuel," By Linda Fort, Chief Reporter:


digitaltoast said...

Sorry I'm a bit late to the party, I've been away but I'm totally surprised on returning to read that Reading Buses and Council had "only just" found out that their fuel was not what they thought - because I told them this in June 2008!

After getting no-where asking direct questions to Reading Buses, I spoke to Peter Watson of British Sugar on 24th June 2008, and he followed up with an email clarifying that it was never "sugar waste".

I then forwarded this to Reading Buses and Reading Borough Council - about 3 days later I got a very, let's say "robust", phone call from Sam Simpson from Reading Buses. He proceeded to launch into a hatchet job on Dr Paul Bardos (more on him later) basically saying he was Tory and therefore biased and incorrect and he hated the environment and wanted to kill fluffy bunnies and kittens with hoses run from exhaust pipes into their warrens etc (or something along those lines), and that bioethanol was definitely a waste by-product of growing sugar beet.

Also in June 2008 I had the following reply from Reading Buses board member Warren Swaine in reply to "were Reading Buses conning us?":
"As far as RTL is concerned, conned is not the right word. There was a misunderstanding which wasn't cleared up until after the initial publicity had gone out. Reading Buses acted in good faith when putting together the publicity as they were under the impression at the time that it was actually waste product."

Also, in the Reading Forum, on 24th June 2008, he also wrote in reply to further questioning on this:
"I will ask. They cannot lie, spin or whatever you wish to call it to me... I'm a director!"

It appears they were always going to be safe though - when I contacted the Advertising Standards Authority explaining that I felt this "sugar waste" claim to be misleading, I received a reply dated 22nd July 2008 explaining that they do not cover:
"statutory, public, police and other official notices/information, as opposed to marketing communications, produced by public authorities and the like".

I did try and persue this explaining that I felt the sign was a marketing communication, but they we steadfast.

I got a reply from Reading Trading Standards with an almost identical position - as Reading Buses was a council owned company, they could do nothing.

Around this time, I also made contact with this Paul Bardos who Sam Simpson had mentioned. Dr Bardos appeared to have had a similar experience to me - asking lots of questions but getting a lot of brush-offs in the process.
All of this, multiple emails etc, happening across June and July 2008 - unfortunately I moved and changed jobs at around that time, and having tried the best I could, this got pushed to the back of my mind.

But I don't believe for one second that this is a "surprise" to anyone at RTL or RBC - unless they had a two month long "flash forward" style amnesia moment during June and July 2008!

If anyone wants copies of the relevant notes and emails, feel free to ask.

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Very interesting. I know Paul Bardos and we have had some discussions about said buses and biofuels.


Chris Rhodes.