3 November 1995

No doubt about benefits

Growing crops for energy offers a sustainable solution to rising demands for power. In this special we focus on efforts to kick-start the use of coppice, straw and miscanthus for electricity generation and oilseed rape for bio-diesel. Edited by Charles Abel

GOVERNMENT claims that a derogation to remove duty on bio-diesel cannot be considered until a categoric case has been made out for its environmental and scientific benefits have been slammed.

"Only the government believes the case hasnt been proved," says David Randall, of the Middles-borough chemical firm Chemoxy International.

His firm is processing the fuel for British Biodiesel, a consortium of chemical, farming and seed companies formed to promote the environmentally friendly fuel.

Seed is supplied by merchant Farmway, crushed in Selby by Unitrition and converted into bio-diesel by Chemoxy. "There is no reason to doubt that the environmental benefits claimed for rape methyl ester would be delivered."

Farmer John Seymour of East Farm, Hawthorn, Co Durham, is chairman of the North East Durham bio-diesel working group. He says extensive independent emission tests have shown bio-diesel use can cut carbon monoxide emissions by 34.6%, hydrocarbons by 30.9% and smoke by 41%.

Apparently unconvinced, the government is carrying out further trials. Results should be known in the middle of next year when some derogation may be forthcoming. That leaves the bio-diesel industry reluctant to invest.

Chemoxy currently produces rape methyl ester through a batch process using sedimentation, explains Mr Randall. Switching to a continuous process using three centrifuges would cost £1.5m. No business will make that investment to produce a commodity which might not have a market, he says.

With industrial rapeseed at £122/t, his company can produce rape methyl ester for 45-47p/litre. Adding VAT and distribution costs takes the sale price to 55p/litre compared with an average DERV price of 52-53p/litre.

Niche markets using bio-diesel on inland waterways, city bus routes and within national parks could be prepared to pay an extra few pence for the environmentally friendly fuel but not the escalated 85-86p/litre when duty is added.

Meanwhile, the bio-diesel consortium is processing 1241ha (3000 acres) of industrial oilseed rape from this harvest. Some will go, duty free, to County Cork, Eire, for use in a year-long EU-funded trial.

But Mr Seymour remains angry about the apparent impasse. "The production of bio-diesel is only an icebreaker. Chemoxy is interested in other feedstocks from agriculture. The government does not appreciate what we could do in the future." &#42

Crops for energy uses are not getting the government backing they should, according to north-eastern bio-diesel enthusiasts.