In the most princely move of perhaps all prince moves, one of Prince Charles’ expensive cars uses wine and cheese byproducts as fuel. Classy!
Ahead of a major climate meeting in Glasgow next month, Charles gave a wide-ranging interview to the BBC where he talked about climate change—a favorite topic of his. During the conversation about his own personal carbon footprint, Charles talked about his 1970 Aston Martin, which now runs on the nice stuff you’d put out for your parents when they come to visit your apartment.
Charles is a notorious car lover. His taste runs somewhat counter to other rich car aficionados, though. While Charles told the BBC that most cars on his estates are electric, he’s had to get creative for some of his older models. The Aston Martin is a point in case. The blue DB6 Mk2 Volante that was a gift to Chuck on his 21st birthday from his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. He had the Volante retrofitted in 2008 to run on a type of bioethanol fuel, which he said is made from the “surplus English white wine and whey from the cheese process.”
This car isn’t a recent upgrade to prove the UK is, uh, serious about dealing with climate change; Charles has been driving this cocktail-chic ride for decades. In a truly zany interview with the Telegraph from 2018, he described how he basically forced the Aston Martin designers to figure out a way to get his car to run on the fanciest combination of foods they could find:
“They discovered they could run it on surplus English white wine, but also I hadn’t realized that they had mixed whey into it too,” he says.
“The engineers at Aston said, ‘Oh, it’ll ruin the whole thing’.
“I said, ‘Well I won’t drive it then’, so they got on with it and now they admit that it runs better and is more powerful on that fuel than it is on petrol.
“And also, it smells delicious as you’re driving along.”
Wonder if any of that cheese is Wensleydale.
In that 2018 interview, Charles also revealed that he’d gone to “battle” with the operators of the Royal Train, a special line used a handful of times a year to get the Royal Family around the country, to get the train to run on used cooking oil. (“They say it clogs up the engine or something,” he added.)
Technically, Charles isn’t shoving wedges of brie and pouring bottles of Cabernet into his ride. The fuel Charles’s car runs on is called E85, a flexible fuel that blends ethanol with some percentage of gasoline. Ethanol can be made from a bunch of different plant byproducts, most notably corn and sugar, but certain leftovers from the wine and cheesemaking processes can also be used.
Look, this is all very nice for Charles and his party on wheels. But it’s also a pretty deeply inefficient and, dare we say, bougie way of getting around. Normal people probably don’t have a vintage luxury car just hanging around in the garage nor the ability to get its makers to just show up and retrofit it to run on bottles of Trader Joe’s chardonnay. The bigger issue is that using biofuels in cars—even cheaper kinds like corn—is a questionable way to reduce carbon emissions reductions.
Biofuel critics say that using crops like corn as fuel could lead to an increase in land use, which could help increase greenhouse gas emissions in turn. In the U.S., much of the research about how clean or dirty biofuels are is funded or requested by warring agriculture and oil industries. Surplus wine and whey may be slightly better, but it’s probably best to keep on with the electric vehicle revolution and clean up the power grid in the grand scheme of not frying the planet.
“Prince Charles’s quaint solution to decarbonize his Aston Martin using a high blend of bioethanol made from cheese and wine wastes should not be mistaken for a serious solution to decarbonize vehicles,” Greg Archer, UK director of T&E, a European clean transport campaign group, told the Guardian. “On a large scale biofuels do more harm than good, driving deforestation and land use change that worsens the climate crisis.”
As for the rest of his carbon footprint, it’s not just his bachelorette-party-wine-tour-weekend car. Charles told the BBC that he’s installed a range of different energy sources, from hydroelectric turbines to solar panels to biomass woodchip burners, at his homes across the UK. (Burning wood for biomass, by the way, is another pretty questionable form of “renewable” energy.) He also limits his meat, fish, and dairy intake, he said.
It’s also probably important to note that all this effort is almost certainly offset by Charles’s frequent private jet trips. All the wine-and-cheese-powered drives in the world can’t make up for the fact that private jet flights, mansion lifestyles, and other habits of the ultra-rich are doing a disproportionate amount of damage to the planet—and the solutions they may dream up for themselves aren’t helpful for those of us without the manufacturers of Aston Martin on our speed dial.