Farmers have a genuine opportunity to deliver a biofuels industry in the UK, here and now.

 

That was the message at last week’s Cereals event near Lincoln from National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall who set out five action points to progress the development of the sector.

 

“The renewables industry is on the brink of delivery,” he told delegates at the HSBC Farming for Profit forums. “It’s exciting to see so much new technology [at the event].”

 

The government’s Renewables Transport Fuel Obligation (ReTFO) target of 5% biofuels inclusion in road fuel was a step in the right direction, Mr Kendall said. But he believed the UK still had a lot of catching up to do with the rest of Europe.

 

“Once you have a target set, this is a real indication we can have a strong and dynamic ethanol industry, but it’s a shame we’re the bottom of the league in Europe.”

 

The ReTFO target was 5% by volume, he pointed out. “Our target to match the energy value target of Europe needs to be 8%. The French have set 10% by 2015.”

 

Mr Kendall was at a loss to explain why investment in renewable fuels in the UK was taking so long.

 

“I find it difficult to understand when we see such dramatic investment globally that we’re having to wait for investment in the UK. There are positive signs, but we’re still massively behind.” Over 80% of cars in Brazil are “flexifuel”, he noted, while the US is now using more than 50mt of maize for ethanol production.

 

The influence of the major oil companies was more hindrance than help, the president believed. “I am concerned by the dramatic influence of the petrochemical companies lobbying to push biofuels too far into the future and arguing that we must wait for second-generation [hydrogen] energy.”

 

In particular they were arguing for ReTFO fines to go back into the Treasury coffers and “not to the companies that are meeting their obligations”, which could help increase investment in the sector.

 

Calling for five key action points to be addressed (see panel), Mr Kendall warned that the environmental credentials of renewable fuels must be at the heart of their development.

 

“I don’t want us to get so concerned about energy that we lose sight of our environmental footprint…that would be a monumental own goal.”

 

Accrediting biofuels production would be necessary, but it didn’t need to be complicated, he concluded. “I don’t want a detailed bureaucratic system.

 

“We already have 85% of crops in farm assurance, and [there’s a danger] we will just generate another income stream for accreditation [firms]. That would be bad news.”

 

Kendall’s five-point plan

 

  • Higher targets than 5% biofuels inclusion needed
  • Long-term ReTFO commitment from government
  • Low-Carbon Vehicle Partnership to listen to farmers and what they can do
  • ReTFO buy-out recycled to develop more biofuels and not returned to Treasury funds
  • DEFRA secretary David Miliband to drive the renewable energy agenda across all government departments

 

Farmers help needed

 

Growers can help biofuels developers with their investment plans by committing their crops early, Green Spirit Fuels’ Malcolm Shepherd said. “We can’t just wait for the government. Farmers need to help new renewables developers take on a certain amount of their risk management by agreeing to sell a proportion of their crop for a fixed price.”