When I start up my car, it emits a delicious aroma of fish and chips. Although it may make me hungry, I am disappointed to find nothing when I look out of the window. It didn’t even smell of battered cod. 

This may sound strange, but we are moving away from diesel and petrol and using cooking oil to power cars and lorries. 

Biofuels may not prove as popular as electricity when it comes to propelling cars, but they could play a role in turning Britain carbon neutral by 2050 – an ambition laid out last week by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he declared the country would ‘lead the charge’ against climate change. 

Going green:  Toby fills up with biofuel, but there is no mouth-watering aroma of fish and chips

Going green:  Toby fills up with biofuel, but there is no mouth-watering aroma of fish and chips 

Inspired by Prince of Wales, who boasts that his car is powered by a mixture of cheese and wine, I decided to test drive a four-year-old Mercedes S-Class powered by old cooking oil. The £40,000 vehicle belongs to Andrew Freeman, boss of a haulage company based just outside Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. 

Pure Fuels, which is also run by Freeman, produces biofuel from cooking oil. This is used to fuel Freemans Transport’s 50- strong fleet of lorries that do a combined nine million miles a year. A 44-ton lorry is capable of driving 12 miles per gallon of biofuel. 

Freeman may be foolish enough to trust me to take my pride and joy for a spin along the country lanes around his company’s Stibbington headquarters. As I fill up my fuel tank, his smile is all that is visible.

There is an odd smell of rubber as I pour the oil in – a bit like the smell a wetsuit gives off. It is not as pungent and looks like liquid gold. 

Once I have figured out which buttons are needed to get the auto started, the vehicle roars into life and then I head for the Nene Valley Railway Museum. This ride is no different than if I was driving a regular diesel car. It is a smooth ride with no fume smells. 

The Royal heir’s Aston Martin is run on a blend of 85 per cent ethanol – derived from alcoholic gases emitted during the production of wine and cheese fermentation – mixed with 15 per cent unleaded petrol. 

However, it isn’t practical for most drivers, according to critics. However, the chip fat oil that is used to fry up Britain’s favorite meal of fish and chips could easily be converted into a biofuel to drive cars.

Older diesel engines don’t require adaptation. Modern cars, such as the one I drove, only require that the cooking oil be refined. Producers such as Pure Fuels use waste chip fat oil that might otherwise be thrown away, then filter and distil it so it is clean enough to run on even the most finicky modern diesel engines. 

The electronics and heating systems on diesel vehicles made after 2000 means they struggle to run on just raw vegetable oil – while the oil does not work as a substitute fuel for petrol-driven cars. 

Freeman states that “we have come a long distance from the dinosaur biofuel of just a few years back.” This is a solution for modern diesel engines – and avoids those nasty carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. 

‘It is also far more practical than going electric, where you use up natural resources to build batteries that always need recharging.’ 

Do the numbers stack up? Freeman calculates his refined fuel costs less than £1 a litre. This is a bargain compared with the soaring cost of diesel – which currently stands at about £1.44 a litre and is still rising. Both fuel economy are almost identical. 

The biggest hurdle is to convince petrol stations that they will stock biofuel at the pumps. Freeman said that the fuel industry is dragging its feet. Selling biofuel is not in the best financial interests of the major petrol stations and the Government has fallen for its own misguided spin on electric cars being the future.’

Biofuels help the planet by not burning fossil fuels – though they might harm the environment in other ways, for example through deforestation to grow plants for the production of vegetable oil. 

However, diesel cars emit an average of three tons per year of carbon dioxide. It is closer to zero for chips oil. Vegetable oil is made from plants that absorb carbon dioxide.

But this ecofriendly route will not stop biofuel falling foul of a tough new £12.50 ultra-low emission zone charge in London that will apply to most non-electric vehicles from tomorrow. 

The cost of chip fat oil used to produce biofuel can be as high as £850 a ton – though Freeman refines waste that costs just £65 a ton. However, a few eco-warriors have been able to make their own biofuels without expensive equipment. 

Alex Kersten is the editor of Car Throttle. He says that he tried cooking oils on a Skoda Octavia, aged 20, and it was a success. I paid £10 for two 20-litre tubs of used cooking oil from a local chip shop and got 20 litres free from a Chinese takeaway. It took more than a week of slow filtering through old net curtains – which was messy and took time – but the car ran just the same as before and saved me a fortune in fuel bills.’ 

Life in the fast lane: Prince Charles in his car powered by cheese and wine

Life in the fast lane: Prince Charles drives his car powered by cheeses and wines

Working on the basis that a car manages 40 miles to the gallon and travels 10,000 miles a year, diesel would cost around £1,620. Using chip fat oil, the equivalent cost would be £284. If you produce your own fuel and use less than 2,500 litres of vegetable oil a year, there is no tax to pay – but anything more and you must pay 57.95p a litre in fuel duty. 

Kersten says: ‘Using cooking oil as fuel will certainly save money, and using a waste product to fuel the engine is environmentally friendly, too. This was an experiment, and I wouldn’t make it a full-time habit. It takes so much effort. But I will miss being able blast any aggressive tailgating drivers with a puff on chip fat smoke. 

Another problem is that vegetable oil can clog fuel injectors and puts more strain on a fuel pump than diesel. It might be worth installing a dual tank system instead – allowing diesel to start the engine before switching to biofuel. 

Mixing diesel and biofuels in a mixture of 20 percent diesel and 80 percent biofuel will make it less likely that you’ll have trouble starting a car. Biofuel conversion kits can cost £1,000.

Last month – as the petrol pump crisis gripped the nation – the Government started reducing the proportion of fossil fuels in a standard gallon of petrol with the introduction of new rules requiring more environmentally friendly ethanol in the mix. Standard unleaded petrol has changed from a mixture containing 5 percent ethanol, 95 per cent petrol (E5) and 10 per cent petrol(E10). 

Modern vehicles will not notice any difference in performance, but cars made before 2011 may not perform as well with the new blend. This is because ethanol – which can also be produced from crops – can damage rubber and parts of older vehicles over time. These cars might have to switch to the more expensive ‘E5 super unleaded’ that typically costs £7 more to fill up a 60-litre tank.

As evidenced by recent fuel shortages at petrol stations, it is now more important than ever to find viable alternatives fuels. 

Despite the Government’s push towards more vehicles being powered by electricity – banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 – not everyone is convinced by this strategy. 

The lack of fast charging points and the fact that it takes a few hundred miles to recharge, as well as the extra cost of electric cars, are major disincentives. 

Environmentalists are not happy with the mining of precious minerals like cobalt, nickel, and manganese for car batteries. 

A hundred and twenty four years ago, Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the diesel engine, believed running a motor car on vegetable oil was a future possibility – testing his invention on peanut oil. It seems he is being proven correct. 


The “bio-bug” Volkswagen Beetle, a Wessex Water subsidiary Geneco developed, runs on human waste. 

The gaseous sewage gases that have been flushed down the drains of 70 homes provide enough power to keep this vehicle running for 10,000 miles per year. 

The car is powered with ‘biomethane’, which is created by micro-organisms who break down excrement in an oxygen-starved aquarium. 

No unpleasant exhaust fumes: The 'bio-bug' Volkswagen Beetle developed by Wessex Water subsidiary Geneco, runs on human waste

No unpleasant exhaust fumes: This Volkswagen Beetle, a ‘bio-bug’ Volkswagen Beetle, was developed by Geneco, a Wessex Water subsidiary. It runs on human waste

Motorists at the sewage works plug a line into a gas canister stored in the car boot.

It takes just two minutes to fill up enough fuel for 230 miles. The car switches to petrol automatically when it runs out. 

The gas is pleasant tasting with no unpleasant exhaust fumes. 

The vehicle was adapted to run on sewage a decade ago as an experiment – and inspired Bristol City Council to adopt the technology for a fleet of 100 biomethane gas-propelled ‘bio-buses’ that serve the local area – and are powered by sewage. 

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