Diesel and petrol came along about the same time in recent history, but petrol, with the help of Andrew Mellon and GM, became the fuel of choice - even though Henry Ford wanted to use farm wastes and hemp stalks to produce ethanol. Diesel came more from the farm, as it is produced all or in part from plant based oils. But Mellon did not own hemp farms, he owned oil wells. So for a century we have used and perfected petrol based transportation, and neglected ethanol and diesel. Bush's lame attempt at using food corn for ethanol has been an own goal, so we are not seeing too much ethanol, except in Brazil, where they use sugar cane to produce it.
Diesel has been in constant use though, but more for lorries and farm equipment. But now, given the recent spike in the price of oil, it has been given more attention and improved much. Porter notes that you get an average 32mpg from a petrol car, whilst diesel gives you 45mpg, using a source at the AA for this factoid. Factoid #2 is that 40% of the cars on the UK motorways are now run on diesel. Since it is more economical to run, it's a no brainer. So no wonder auto makers are coming up with sleek designs for new diesel cars, such as:
Seat Ibiza 74.3mpg
VW Polo Bluemotion 74.3mpg
Mini Cooper 72.4mpg
Citroen C1 68.9mpg
Mini Clubman 68.9mpg
Skoda Fabia Estate 68.9mpg
This impacts on our CO2 emissions, as diesel emits less; Porter footnotes the website www.greencarsite.co.uk whose list of 57 vehicles which meet the EU standard for air pollution emissions of 120g per km or less contains 41 diesel vehicles. Two of these come in at under 100g per km: Seat Ibiza 1.4 TDI 80PS Ecomotive and Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion 1.4TDI 80PS. At this level of emissions, they are road tax exempt.
A propos of that, I might just end on a slight tangent here and recall that a friend of mine, Oliver Lindon, told me that he had one of 2 US make electric motorbikes in the UK, which are, of course, tax exempt as there is not fuel. All of which is good news, we are making progress, and this is not just an idealistic quest, the less we use petrol the less dependent a single source for our energy needs. Some good news on which to start this new year.