Transport Fuels: Renewable Sources

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 9:30 am, 28th January 2016

What recent assessment his Department has made of when the UK will meet its target in the EU renewable energy directive of 10% of its transport fuels coming from renewable sources.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We are determined to achieve the target of 10% biofuel inclusion by 2020 and are working with industry and others to that end.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

There has been a £400 million investment in the Vivergo Fuels plant in my constituency, supporting 4,000 jobs. Does he agree that the most cost-effective way of meeting our transport emissions targets is to increase the share of bioethanol in our petrol?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I suppose I should declare an interest, as 100 tonnes of my wheat went to that plant just before Christmas to produce bioethanol. It is important that we work with not only the plant in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but the one on Teesside to ensure that the industry has a sustainable future. We must also look carefully at other knock-on effects that indirect land use change might have, as the decisions we make in Europe can affect habitats in south America or the far east, for example.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

Does the Minister agree that it is absolutely essential that we get on with developing alternative fuels of a variety of kinds to power our vehicles? Without that, the levels of nitrous dioxide are causing permanent health damage to many people in this country. At Tinsley, the local authority in Sheffield has decided to move a school away from the motorway because of the levels of NO2, but residents are still living there. The city council is responsible for air quality to some degree, but in the end it is down to Government to deal with problems such as air pollution from the motorway. When are they going to act on this?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, the Government are acting to ensure that diesel-powered vehicles are meeting their obligations, but our push towards electric vehicles and other novel-fuel vehicles also has a part to play. The Government are determined to improve air quality.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned electric vehicles, because Continental, which is a major player in research and development for electric car drivetrains, making them for many different manufacturers, is based in my constituency. What is the Department doing to encourage the use and development of electric cars?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The plug-in car grants have been very successful, and we have seen an increase in the take-up of electric cars. Indeed, I was recently in Milton Keynes opening a facility there to test the drivetrains and motors in electric cars. The UK is taking a lead in this technology, which is being developed here. The Nissan Leaf is a major product produced in the UK to contribute to this market.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

On behalf of SNP Members, I add my thanks and best wishes to the departing staff members and wish them a happy retirement.

Good work needs to be done on new fuels, but there is a glaring omission within the Government’s work just now. Regardless of the current fuel position, there is a need to plan ahead. The Minister will know that Oslo airport has become the world’s first airport to offer sustainable jet biofuel to all airlines, and that Lufthansa Group, SAS and KLM have already signed agreements to buy it. Here, meanwhile, the aviation industry has raised concerns that the industry’s sustainable aviation agenda is not being supported by Government. Will the Minister reconsider his position and include aviation in the renewable transport fuels obligation?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

In terms of the sustainability of aviation, this is an important year at the International Civil Aviation Organisation, where we should get, I hope, agreement on a market-based mechanism to combat the issue of carbon dioxide. Within the industry, both Virgin and British Airways are working on alternative fuels produced from waste products, which will help with the sustainability of aviation.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

I do not think that anybody, especially in the aviation industry, is persuaded by the tortured explanations that we get on this. The aviation industry tells me that the UK Government are in policy paralysis—they are not dealing with biofuel development and they are not dealing with airport expansion. Will the Minister commit to action on a renewable transport fuels obligation for aviation?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

That is not the impression I get when I meet representatives of the aviation industry. Indeed, the improvement of sustainable aviation is an industry-led initiative. I repeat that this is a very important year for the world in terms of tackling CO2 emissions from aviation. We all want to achieve a globally based mechanism, and I am determined to ensure that we play our part in negotiating it.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

I really do need to press the Minister a bit further on this. Recently, British Airways postponed its GreenSky project to establish a facility to produce advanced biofuels for aviation here in the UK. While the issues involved in that are no doubt complex, will the Minister listen to the increasingly widespread warnings from those involved in aviation that inaction and lack of clear policy direction from the Government are holding back the development and use of renewable fuels in aviation, thereby missing opportunities to boost jobs and skills in these technologies and making it more difficult to meet our obligations on carbon and harmful emissions?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration in wanting to make more progress, but I have to say that there is more than one way of killing a cat. Yes, alternative fuels may have an important role to play, but more importantly—[Interruption.] More importantly, a market-based mechanism will allow other types of technology to be developed which can then be used to offset the emissions from aviation, which will always be dependent on liquid fuels. [Interruption.]