As a government department, the Forestry Commission is committed to meeting the European Union's targets of using more renewable fuels derived from organic sources to fuel its vehicles. It is already well ahead of the target of 5.75% by the end of 2010. Carbon-neutral biological fuels, or ‘biofuels’ already comprise about 8% of the total road fuel bought by the Forestry Commission in Scotland, and 5% of the total over Great Britain as a whole.
Most of our biofuel-powered vans are running on a blend of 95% of the usual ultra-low-sulphur mineral diesel and 5% biodiesel. The vegetable oil in this biodiesel comes from ‘virgin’ sources, such as crops of oilseed rape, but also recycled cooking oil! This comes from restaurants, chip shops and large industrial cooking establishments — like those making oven-ready chips! Biofuel manufacturers refine it into biodiesel and sell it on to customers like us.
Vegetable oils are sustainable because they can continually be replaced by growing more of the plants that we get them from. We can't do that with fossil fuels such as mineral oil. They are also 'carbon-neutral' which means that they don't increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This year's crop of oil-producing plants reabsorbs the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as last year's crop released, in a continuous, carbon-neutral cycle – just as our forests do when we replant them after harvesting!
The company who supply many of our small vehicles have recently agreed to honour warranties on our vans if blends containing up to 30% biodiesel are used. We are currently trialling 23 vehicles in Perthshire on a 25% biodiesel blend, and we haven’t experienced any problems yet …!
In the future we are considering using biodiesel blends for other uses, such as in tractors at its tree nurseries and in heating fuel at buildings that use gas oil. Most of the forestry machinery used in our forests, such as harvesters and forwarders, already use vegetable oils and biodegradable hydraulic fluids, rather than mineral oils, because they are non-toxic and bio-degrade much more quickly. This means that an oil spill or a burst hose does little harm to the forest environment.