HC Deb 08 November 1939 vol 353 cc224-6
Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary for Mines whether he can make a statement about alternative fuels for motor transport?

The Secretary for Mines (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

Yes, Sir. In time of war it is clearly in the national interest to make the best possible use of home-produced substitutes for imported oil. Among these are certain fuels which can be used to operate existing road vehicles, namely coal gas or methane carried in gas balloons or compressed in cylinders, and producer gas which is actually generated on the vehicle during the run. There are considerable technical difficulties in adapting producers to burn raw coal or coke for driving motor vehicles, and, in view of the importance of solving them, a committee of scientists and road operators was set up by the Government some time ago. They have carried out exhaustive work in the laboratory and under commercial conditions on the road and I am glad to say that their persistent efforts have now-resulted in a design of producer which can be recommended for manufacture. The Fuel Research Station's work has shown that low volatile anthracites and certain low temperature cokes are suitable fuels and research is proceeding in the hope of widening the range of fuel.

In order to stimulate the use of these fuels the Government have decided that various uncertainties in the fiscal and general position should be removed and I am authorised to give certain assurances. First, to meet fears that the Government might propose a tax on home-produced coal, coke or gas when used as a fuel for motor transport, I can assure the House that, so far as the present Government are concerned, there is no intention of proposing such taxation within the next five years. Secondly, in the case of services of national importance, the Government have no intention of rationing these alternative fuels. Thirdly, since the weight of the auxiliary equipment is included in the unladen weight of vehicles for the purposes of taxation and of the Road Traffic Acts, the addition of this equipment will, in some cases, put the vehicle into a higher licence duty category and a lower speed limit category. The Government have decided to make concessions on these points and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is taking the necessary steps, in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give effect to these decisions. The Government hope that, with this encouragement the employment of these alternative fuels may develop and that they will make a useful contribution to our war effort. For the convenience of hon. Members, I am circulating a fuller statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Attlee

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether that fuller statement will contain details with regard to the prices of the coal used; and can he also say when we may expect a statement as to the negotiations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with regard to unladen weight?

Mr. Lloyd

The statement does not actually contain details of the prices, but that is a matter which is under active consideration at the moment. With regard to the second part of the question, my right hon. Friends are taking immediate steps in the matter, but I cannot say exactly when a statement may be made.

Mr. George Hall

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether his Department is considering extending its inquiries into these alternative fuels and particularly the erection of further plants for the production of oil from coal?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir, that is also under active consideration, but I thought there should be no delay in bringing forward these proposals.

Mr. Higgs

Does the Minister intend to make use of the Birmingham Gas Research Department which has been en- gaged in research in this matter for years and is now offering its services to the Government?

Mr. Lloyd

We are in close touch with the Birmingham Corporation, and, of course, these proposals will facilitate the work in which they are engaged.

Mr. E. Smith

Will the design of this apparatus which has been brought out by the committee of scientists be available to everyone in the country, and, secondly, can the hon. Gentleman give the approximate cost of conversion from petrol to producer gas when this problem is solved?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. This design will be made freely available to firms able and willing to undertake the manufacture. I would not like to give an estimate of the cost.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Are the Government themselves making the necessary arrangements for the production of the necessary apparatus, or will it be left for private individuals to do so?

Mr. Lloyd

It will be made available for firms.

Mr. Lawson

Will there be any difficulty in private firms getting this technical apparatus for their purposes, and do we understand that this is regarded as probably the solution of the problem?

Mr. Lloyd

This design will be made freely available to responsible persons.

Mr. McGovern

In the hon. Gentleman's statement he says that the Government do not intend to have any change for the next five years. Are the Government seriously intending to be in office for the next five years?

Mr. Lloyd


Following is the statement:

Gas Producers. The practical application of producer gas for transport purposes involves a number of difficult technical problems but the Government have long been aware of the potential value of producer gas in an emergency and they accordingly arranged some time ago for the matter to be comprehensively investigated by a Committee. The Chairman is Sir Harold Hartley, Chairman of the Fuel Research Board, and the Departments concerned, namely, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (through the Fuel Research Station), the Ministry of Transport, and the Mines Department, are represented. In addi- tion, the Committee includes officials and technical officers of several important road transport operating companies. The Government are most grateful to the Chairman, the other members of the Committee, and the companies concerned for the assistance which they have so generously given during what has been a lengthy and arduous investigation. The road transport operators on the Committee have conducted extensive running tests with different types of producer under commercial conditions and the Committee have thus secured a great deal of practical experience of the performance of producers, the difficulties of operation, and the problems of converting vehicles to run on producer gas. At the same time, the Fuel Research Station have carried out a large number of running tests with different types of producer and many different fuels over a standardised test route; they have also done bench tests on filtration problems. As a result of experience gained in road trials the Committee undertook the design of a producer specially suitable for the conversion of motor vehicles in an emergency. Following satisfactory service tests of this producer, the Committee have informed me that the design has reached a stage when it can be considered for manufacture. As regards conversion of vehicles, the Committee's practical experience has shown that in a large number of cases the best method of conversion would be to mount the equipment upon a trailer and they have accordingly also designed and tested a suitable trailer. The Committee do not claim particular originality for their design and they acknowledge their indebtedness to experience gained in operating existing commercial types of producer. Mention should also be made of the valuable research work being done in this field, though on somewhat different lines from that of the Committee, by the British Coal Utilisation Research Association, with whom the Mines Department are in touch. The Committee's design is based on the application of well-known principles to the particular problem they had before them, namely, the conversion under war conditions to producers of existing motor vehicles using fuels available in this country. It is proposed to make the design available to firms able and willing to undertake manufacture, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders are ready to assist with the necessary contacts so far as their members are concerned. The problem of the availability of suitable fuels has been studied by the Fuel Research Station and its Coal Survey Staff, and a range of low volatile anthracite and certain types of low temperature coke have already been specified as suitable. Research on carbonisation is in progress and, if this is successful, it should be possible to widen considerably the range of fuels. Meanwhile it is most essential that producer gas operators should avoid unsuitable fuels. The advice of the Fuel Research Station will always be available on this question and the Mines Department will be ready to assist on general problems. It is important that the interests concerned should bear in mind the necessity for coordinating general development with the organisation of fuel supplies. Coal Gas Balloons. This device should have a definite sphere of utility, although the distance which can be travelled on one filling is relatively small. The technical problems involved are fairly simple and certain gas companies are actively negotiating at the present time with the garages and other interests concerned about development. There is reason to hope that there will soon be on the road some vehicles propelled by this means. Compressed Gas Cylinders. Coal gas carried compressed in cylinders gives a much longer mileage than is possible with gas balloons, and methane, a rich gas, which occurs in coal mines, oil wells, and at sewage works, may also be used in this way. The Government has for some time been associated with certain tests on vehicles running on compressed coal gas, and it can be said that the use of this fuel is technically sound. The most serious obstacles in the way of development are, first, the cost and industrial effort required to erect gas compressing plants at a number of centres and, secondly, difficulties with regard to the supply of high pressure cylinders, which are required for many other essential purposes at the present time.