Monday, November 20, 2006

UK's first vegetable oil trawler

The UK's first vegetable oil powered trawler is undergoing trials in the North Sea.

The Jubilee Quest trawler has had its diesel engine converted to run on the more environmentally friendly vegetable oil.

The conversion is not a cheap one but the project had financial backing from the government agency The Sea Fish Industry Authority (Seafish).

The UK's fishing fleet is currently powered by diesel but it is hoped that by using biofuel, far less of the harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) will end up in the atmosphere.

Vegetable oil does emit CO2 if it is used as a fuel, but the plants used to make the oil absorb the gas while growing, so the hope is that far less CO2 is pumped into in the atmosphere.

The environmental benefits of using biofuel on vessels would be vast, as a typical diesel-powered trawler on a 10-day trip emits 37 tonnes of the greenhouse gas.

In contrast, running a family car for a year would result in a comparably small emission of two tonnes of CO2.

The boat runs on a dual fuel system. It starts on diesel, switches over to vegetable oil when the engine has warmed up, then flushes itself out with diesel again before switching off.

The owners of the Jubilee Quest cannot afford to have it out of work during trials, so the trawler is now fishing as normal out of Grimsby in the North Sea.

"The performance as far as we can tell has been the same as a diesel... we've got to be confident because we work up to 300 miles away from home," skipper Graham Hall told BBC Working Lunch.

The engineer behind the Jubilee Quest's conversion says that he has carried it out for environmental and economic reasons, even though the current tax system does not work in his favour.

"It's quite tough to compete on price with fresh oils at the moment, because there's no road fuel duty to pay on marine fuel," Mike Lawton told the programme.

"Where we want to get to is run vessels on tallow oil... the thick oil left at the bottom of your frying pan after you've cooked some sausages," he said.

The waste cooking oils would be a cheaper fuel to get hold of in comparison to other biofuels currently in use.

As for drivers using biofuels, they benefit from a 20-pence-a-litre discount on the fuel duty they have to pay to the Exchequer.

But other European countries such as Germany and Ireland have gone further, experimenting with a complete duty exemption on some biofuels for road use.

Even so, a growing number of cars, buses and trucks in the UK are using the fuel.

Now fishing boats can be added to the list.

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