Construction work has started at the site of a new £200m bioethanol plant in Saltend, near Hull. The plant, which will take 1.1m tonnes of mainly UK-grown wheat, is a joint venture between Associated British Foods (45%), BP (45%) and DuPont (10%), called Vivergo Fuels.

All regulatory approval and funding is in place and preparatory groundwork at the 25-acre brownfield site is almost complete, Vivergo managing director, David Richards says. “We’re now moving on to the next stage of construction and are on target to start producing ethanol in summer 2010. It’s fully equity funded, so all funding is in place.”

Frontier will be the exclusive grain supplier, taking grain from over 1000 growers, and trading director Jon Duffy says the firm is already talking to farmers to develop growing regimes that ensure wheat supplying the plant is grown in a sustainable manner. “Ultimately, you need to grow for maximum yield to reduce the carbon footprint, but we are also looking at all other aspects of production.”

Bioethanol

Vivergo’s new bioethanol plant is expected to take 1.1m tonnes of UK wheat

This grower protocol is likely to be included within contracts, details of which have not been drawn up, he says. “The bulk of grain will be for harvest 2010, or drilling in autumn 2009, so we’re still a year or so away from offering contracts. We haven’t confirmed what varieties will be used, but high-yielding, starchy feed-type wheats will obviously be preferable.”

Mr Duffy stresses that wheat supplying the plant will not detract from supplies going into existing food customers. Most will come from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and is grain that would have otherwise been exported from Hull and Grimsby, he says. “Even with this plant and another [ethanol plant] on Teeside, there will be an exportable surplus of wheat in the UK it’s more a case that the patterns of grain movement are changing.

“We want to source wheat from UK growers, and for 90% of the time, that will be the case. The only time we may have to buy in grain is when the UK has a poor harvest.”

Mr Richards welcomed some findings of the recent Gallagher Review (News, p16), particularly the focus on sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but said the slow down of targets was counterproductive. “It’s important we get the industry established so we have a platform to advance the technology and improve the biofuel production process.”

Vivergo Fuels

  • Plant fully operational by summer 2010
  • Producing 420m litres bioethanol per year, plus 540,000t animal feed
  • 1.1m tonnes wheat required
  • Frontier sole supplier
  • Feedstock will need low carbon footprint