Category 18 April 2019

Running public transport vehicles on biodiesel from locally sourced waste cooking oil and promoting sustainable practices in urban mobility

The Big Lemon is a community interest company in the United Kingdom. The company operates fleets of public transport buses which run entirely on bio-diesel produced from waste cooking oil. 

The challenge

Private motor transportation is a major cause of CO2 emissions in big cities. Adaptive public transport coupled with bus hiring services can provide alternatives to citizens to using their own cars, and public transport companies can reduce the environmental and health impacts of road pollution by operating their fleets on alternative and clean fuels. Bio-diesel produced from waste cooking oil is an innovative source to power public busses. However, there are limits to the existing recycling channels for cooking oils.

The innovation

Tailored public transport combining standard bus lines and coach hiring services to meet more specific transport demands is the innovative aspect of the Big Lemon’s business model. The local sourcing and upcycling of cooking oil into fuel for the company bus fleet is directly ensured by the company. The Big Lemon operates route 52 on a contract with Brighton & Hove City Council and also offers its buses for private hire for weddings and other group events. The company operates a shuttle service for the University of Brighton, and rents buses to schools for educational trips. In addition, school children are toured to facilities where the bio-diesel is produced from waste cooking oil.

Why did it work?

The Big Lemon started its business in 2007 with the aim of raising awareness of sustainable transport, good value for money and a commitment to friendly and personal service. The company finances its operational costs through crowd funding for R&D. The community owns the company and its investment, and growth is financed by selling shares and bonds to the members of the public. Company shares are priced at £150 each. Shareholders have a voting right in all matters relating to the running of the business and can stand for election to the Board of Governance. Bonds are priced at £100 each with a minimum purchase of at least five bonds for each member. Bond holders do not get a voting right in Annual General Meetings but they receive a fixed-rate of return on investment and their money back with interest after two years.

Further deployment

The public transport service company Big Lemon operates a business model combining food waste treatment and recovery, environmental sustainability of mobility and adaptive services. The business model of a flexible bus fleet service has the potential for replication in other regions. The maturity of this eco-innovation is estimated to be 9 on GML scale. 



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