24 July 2002

Now comes big official boost for bioethanol

By Charles Abeland Tom Allen-Stevens

BRITAINS first bioethanol plant, producing transport fuel from wheat, sugar beet and potatoes, could be operational in just two years, given the right government backing.

Campaigners for the East Anglian plant, which would convert food crops into transport fuel, won a positive reaction from Whitehall last week.

Key to their argument is that financial backing is already in place, with British Sugar and parent company ABF eager to move into the sector, as well as existing fuel companies.

The delegation of farmers and farmers leaders from Norfolk saw farming minister Lord Whitty and transport minister David Jamieson. "Both came back saying they wanted further contact and specifically financial detail of our plans," says Norfolk grower and East of England Development Agency board member Marie Skinner.

"You cannot get a more positive reaction from a government minister than that."

The plant could be processing crops from 35,000ha of farmland within two years, without any need for government capital investment, enthuses Ms Skinner.

By fermenting wheat, sugar beet and biomass it could supply up to 10% of the UKs bioethanol needs.

But to justify the £40-80m investment in the UKs first bioethanol factory industry wants a 30p/litre cut in excise duty, to put the biofuel more in line with liquefied petroleum gas.

An EU directive scheduled for 2005, aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions, could then underpin the sectors growth.

It would require member states to include 2% biofuel in transport fuels, rising to over 5% in 2010.

To meet that goal up to 500,000ha of cropping would be required. "But if we dont get something done soon we risk throwing away a potential whole new industry," warns Ms Skinner. "At the moment the UK is doing nothing."

She believes the East Anglian project could serve as a centre of excellence for biofuel production, boosting local employment and farming prospects. A biofuel plant could create at least 20,000 new jobs, BS estimates.

Indeed, the beet processor reckons it is well placed to develop the sector, with well-located sites, planning options and experience in managing crop movement, intake and processing.

Up to 2m tonnes of beet could be needed, equivalent to 25% of the current crop, it suggests. The company is also looking at processing wheat.

But government support is essential, as called for in the Curry Report, a BS spokesman stresses. Sugar beet factories in France are already being modified to produce bioethanol.

Christopher Deane, group secretary for National Farmers Union East Norfolk branch, says the transport minister indicated that the bioethanol fuel option is "a door that could be just pushed open".

"One labour MP told us this is a project that is being talked about a lot around the House of Commons and has gained much cross-party support."

The East Anglian group is having a further meeting with government officials next week.

&#8226 Turn to p46 for the latest on biodiesel. &#42

BIOETHANOL LIFT-OFF

Factory in East Anglia.

35,000ha crops to supply.

3t biofuel/ha.

Operational harvest 2004?

Only needs fuel duty cut.

BS/ABF financial backing.

Government positive.

BIOETHANOL LIFT-OFF

&#8226 Factory in East Anglia.

&#8226 35,000ha crops to supply.

&#8226 3t biofuel/ha.

&#8226 Operational harvest 2004?

&#8226 Only needs fuel duty cut.

&#8226 BS/ABF financial backing.

&#8226 Government positive.