Christopher Maltin ANVIL January 14th 2015

Anvil discussion on Wednesday 14th January 2015: contribution from Christopher Maltin on the subject “The World’s Most Environmentally Friendly Fuel.”

My interest in the environment and the harm that ‘civilisation’ is inflicting on our planet (not the one we inherited from our ancestors, the one we are borrowing from our children) became firmly established when I was studying engineering in Birmingham and fellow medical students were studying the horrific effects of increased lead levels on the behaviour of children who were living in the shadow of Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction. After developing fuel systems which would allow high performance engines using lead free fuel to power vehicles, I could not believe the difficulty in getting the principle of unleaded petrol accepted by the government and then made available for the public to use. The vested interests were absolutely in control and were not about to give up their “nice little earners” such as having to remove a car’s cylinder head and grind in the valves at regular intervals, only because the valves and seats were made of low quality material. Without lead in the petrol to cushion the closing of the valves, the cheap valves and their seats (often just machined directly into the cast iron cylinder heads) would fail even more frequently, and the engine would suffer from pre-ignition because of incorrect fuel metering and poor cylinder head and manifold design. Properly designing these components would have eliminated such problems and obviated the requirement for leaded petrol. Although the technology for engines to use unleaded petrol was available, the industries responsible for supplying the leaded fuel and manufacturing the vehicles, who appeared to be in control of government policy, refused to adopt this technology and continued poisoning hundreds of thousands of people for the next 15 years or so. To add lead to petrol is now illegal. How on earth were these vested interests able to get away with knowingly damaging the health of the population for so long? The reason for that disgraceful state of affairs was a sucession of weak governments whose transport and environmental policies were driven by well funded pressure groups which were motivated entirely by vested interests. That was in the past. Today the exact same scenario is continuing. Nearly everything we eat, drink and wear is transported at some point by lorries which run on diesel fuel. Over 30% of cars run on diesel as do the majority of our trains and marine transport. With the exception of some very modern designs, these diesel vehicles have been poisoning us by pumping out harmful emissions for decades and these harmful emissions are continuing to increase at an alarming rate, much faster than the increase in the rate of harmful emissions from our manufacturing industries, or from the generation of electricity. Besides greenhouse gases, some of the most damaging emissions are particulates and nitrous oxides which ruin the quality of the air we breathe and cause respiratory difficulties. With poor air quality people are unable to breathe properly and an adequate supply of oxygen does not enter the bloodstream, causing brains and muscles not to work properly. The fact that about 8% of all the drugs prescribed for the National Health Service relate to breathing problems is significant, but not when compared with the reduction in the entire productivity of our nation and the depression that a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream is known to cause. The United Nations recently confirmed that the fumes from diesel vehicles are carcinogenic. The technology now exists to replace diesel fuel with clean natural gas and this is being used as a vehicle fuel around the world, but UK government policy has been too indecisive and short term for natural gas or biomethane to be widely adopted throughout this country. And so it goes on. Powerful people with vested interests, but no concern or even concept of the damage to the environment for which they are responsible, are influencing technically ignorant and weak politicians and civil servants to make illogical decisions, or to allow the status quo to continue. These people are quite incapable of running a country which will be fit for our descendants. The present state of the air quality in England is an indictment of the ineffectiveness of past and present governments. The past and current exploitation of our planet’s finite resources in such a profligate manner will be hard for our grandchildren to comprehend. The majority of those who are responsible, including politicians, have no realistic understanding of sustainability. Similarly they would not understand the concept of there being no such thing as waste. I repeat, there is no such thing as WASTE. Waste is just the result of poor or incomplete processing. There is no waste in nature and any wastes arising from the processes which man has developed are an indication that these processes have not yet been adequately developed and that we have not yet learned that waste is essentially man made. The reason I mention this is that less than half of all the food grown in the world is actually eaten! This means that more than half of all the food crops grown are available as organic resources (the inedible leaves, stalks, skins, roots and peelings). Normally these organic materials are regarded as wastes and they are thrown away to rot, or put into landfills, where they give off methane gas. Using the natural process of anaerobic digestion to treat these materials prevents pollution and produces clean fertilisers, renewable energy in the form of methane gas, and a host of other useful materials. Capturing this methane gas and preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere to become a greenhouse gas some thirty five times worse than carbon dioxide, and using it as a renewable fuel (biomethane), is actually improving the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particulates and nitrous oxides. This is why biomethane is quietly being accepted as world’s most environmentally friendly fuel. It is far better for the environment than any of the other forms of energy. Better even than any renewable energy such as electricity from solar, wind, tidal or wave power, better than biodiesel or bioethanol, or even hydrogen, let alone nuclear because all these ‘alternative’ or ‘renewable’ fuels are simply ‘less bad’ for the environment than are fossil fuels; whereas using biomethane as a fuel is actually doing ‘good’ and improving the environment. So why do our transport systems continue to poison our nation and give us some of the worst air quality in the world? Why is biomethane (natural gas made from wastes) not the preferred fuel in this country? Why are our cars and buses and trucks and trains running on carcinogenic fossil fuels, and not on renewable biomethane? The reason is because we have weak, indecisive governments made up of technically ignorant, short term politicians whose policies are dictated by vested interests. What is required is a major overhaul of the whole political system such that we have joined-up government thinking which sets out responsible long term policies for the benefit of our future generations, not just for the term of office of the particular politician or party making the decision. This would give everyone a breath of fresh air. Gould’s House, Horsington, Wincanton, Somerset, BA8 0EW ( & tel: 07466 600 401) 10th January 2015

Comments are closed.