5 April 1996

Mobile crusher on for DIY biodiesel?

A MOBILE rapeseed crusher and esterification plant capable of on-farm production of home-grown bio-fuel is being developed in the north of England. A prototype should be in operation by the end of the year.

Provided the fuel is not sold, it is tax exempt. So there is scope to process seed from part of a farms rape crop to produce a green fuel. That could be capable of replacing conventional mineral diesel for tractors, combines, transport vehicles, heating boilers and grain driers.

Hallcalm UK, of Peterlee, Co Durham, is developing a skid mounted unit capable of doing just that. It will produce around 500t of rape methyl ester a year.

"We plan to build a mobile machine geared to the needs of a consortium of five or six rape growers," says Hallcalms chairman Bob Pound.

Miniaturisation

"By miniaturising components we can make a rig that can be dropped off by a wagon. It will incorporate a small crushing unit to cope with 30-40t of rapeseed a day and an esterification plant capable of producing RME to the highest standards."

The rig will be powered by a Perkins bus engine running on its own fuel. It could be used as a static centrally-located plant or could be developed as a portable contractors machine.

"We are conscious of the need to keep costs down so I have set a ceiling of £50,000. We have a potential world beater on our hands – it is important to get it into production before someone else beats us to it," says Mr Pound.

John Seymour, who runs the East Durham Bio-Diesel Group, grows rape for bio-diesel production on his 182ha (450-acre) farm at Hawthorn, Durham. He is helping Hallcalm develop the project.

When HM Customs & Excise imposed tax on bio-fuels in December, prospects for large-scale production of RME suffered a major setback, dampening farmer enthusiasm for the environmentally-friendly fuel.

"It was a kick in the groin for a fledgling industry just when we were gearing up to supply an export market," says Mr Seymour.

Cottage industry

But the 32.1p/litre tax is not levied on home-grown fuels provided they are not sold. "Interest is likely to be rekindled as a mobile processing machine capable of producing high quality RME makes a cottage industry approach economically feasible."

Suffolk arable farmer James Buckle of Buckle Farms, Semer near Ipswich, wants to set up a co-operative venture with neighbouring farmers to produce his own fuel. Last years farm fuel bill came to about £5000.

"To trim fuel bills we need to be in control and not dependent on overseas suppliers and multinational distributors," he says. "This looks an interesting prospect."

Kent arable farmer Nick Tapp, who is secretary of the British Association of Bio Fuels and Oils, believes the economics of small-scale bio-fuel production could soon change for the better.

"For anyone buying in RME, the economics do not stack up as it has to compete with red diesel costing 13p/litre. But this situation cannot last for ever," says Mr Tapp, who farms 800ha (2000 acres) at St Nicholas Court, St Nicholas-at-Wade, near Birchington.

"If a small economically-priced mobile unit could be made available, on-farm production would come a step nearer."

Filling up with biodiesel in Austria. Amobile crusher to process home-grown rapeseed could help UKgrowers do the same.