16 November 2001

Calls for biofuel help grow

By Andrew Swallow

CALLS for bio-fuels to be given the duty-break needed to launch the industry have been stepped up following last weeks announcement of a further £15.5m of funding for forestry and energy crops.

"I hope the government funding signals the start of a green revolution for energy crops on farm," says NFU alternative crop use committee chairman Rad Thomas.

That is echoed by British Association of Bio-Fuels and Oils chairman Peter Clery. But welcome as the £15.5m is, only government favourites miscanthus and coppice seem set to benefit, he says.

"These crops have yet to prove themselves in any sense economically. Road transport fuels have again been omitted. Why?" he asks.

The blame lies at DEFRAs door, he believes. "DEFRA has made no effort to lobby on behalf of road transport fuels. This is disgraceful as road transport fuels are a clear way forward to meet government aims on renewable energy supply and air quality," he says.

Crops such as oilseed rape for bio-diesel, and wheat or fodder beet for bio-ethanol, would benefit farmers by developing new markets, the environment by cutting greenhouse and noxious gas emissions, and the public by providing cleaner air.

All that is needed to get these industries going is a reduction in duty on these green fuels to parity with LPG, he stresses.

Mr Thomas agrees that would be one way to kick-start cropping for fuel use, but there are alternatives.

A new grade of fuel could be created by dying bio-diesel green. Use would be obligatory on waterways, in the forestry industry, or in other environmentally sensitive areas where a more biodegradable fuel would be beneficial. "Inner city buses and taxis could run on it too, cleaning up the environment where people live," he suggests.

Bio-diesel from oilseed rape on set-aside should probably be the first fuel crop but others could and should follow, he believes.

"The time is right for a bio-diesel initiative and we appear to be the only major country in Europe without one. It is time we hauled ourselves into the 21st century on this issue.

"This is not rocket science, it is off-the-shelf technology. We dont have to spend any more research money but government still refuses to take the plunge."

That is despite a nil cost option being available to government, he adds. "They could even put a tiny bit on the tax of fossil fuels so that it would be budget neutral so far as the Treasury is concerned." &#42

Funding for energy crops

Last weeks announcement of £15.5m "to help foresters and farmers establish energy crops" is largely directed at creating markets for forestry and fuel crops such as willow and miscanthus, says NFU alternative crops policy adviser Nick Starkey. "There are establishment grants already available but growers cant take up these grants unless they have markets for their crops. If this funding produces those markets then it will be in farmers interests," he says. £10m will be spent on forestry or energy crop power plants, preferably combined heat and power units, £3.5m will go on developing infrastructure to get fuels from farm or forest to these power plants, and £2m will be available as capital grants for small-scale industrial heat units fired by these fuels.

BIO-FUELS NEEDED NOW

&#8226 New markets for crops.

&#8226 Budget neutral options.

&#8226 Environmentally beneficial.

&#8226 Europe racing ahead.

Bio-diesel use is booming in Germany, selling at a discount to mineral diesel thanks to a zero duty rate. Now, the time is right for a UK bio-diesel initiative, says NFU alternative crops committee chairman Rad Thomas.