In November last year, the Department of Transport’s Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) went to consultation. Within its proposals, it recommended a 2% lid placed on crops used to produce biofuels – considerably lower than the EU’s 7% cap.
Richard Royal, head of government affairs at Vivergo Fuels – a bioethanol and animal feed producer, said such a low ceiling would have severe consequences on the market and its potential.
“This would be disastrous for the UK’s bioethanol industry, risking closures and job losses in the north east of England, as well as the loss of significant investment in science and innovation,” he told FeedNavigator.
“It would also close opportunities for British farmers, forcing them to export wheat at a lower cost and to source protein-rich feed from abroad at a time when there is great uncertainty about future international trading relationships.”
Royal said the UK would be better following the 7% level set by most EU member states.
First, second or advanced biofuels?
First-generation biofuels that use ‘food’ crops to produce fuel, like wheat or corn, are increasingly considered the unsustainable option and government and charities alike have suggested a stronger focus on second-generation biofuels or ‘waste biofuel’ made from byproduct or non-food crops.
The Royal Academy of Engineering recently published its Sustainability of Liquid Biofuels report in which it recommended the UK government better incentivize production of second-generation biofuels.
However, Royal said the government should be backing first-generation biofuels as well, given the amount of time and money that had already been invested.
“The industry already invests in research, development, science and innovation and works alongside many educational institutions in this. A growing industry would inevitably invest more in this area, including into second-generation biofuels.”
He said Vivergo produced its E10 bioethanol from feed-grade wheat – producing 1.1 million tons each year – but alongside this, produced 500,000 tons of high-protein animal feed from the same crop.
“We view our co-production of bioethanol and protein-rich animal feed as a win-win and a logical use of resources.”
The business, he said, not only provided a “steady domestic market” for British wheat farmers but also a strong domestic supply of animal feed for UK pastoral farmers.
“The benefit of the process through which our feed is made is that it removes the starch whilst gaining access to the inherent protein. The starch, which can be over-consumed by animals, is used to ferment and create the bioethanol… The higher level of protein in the subsequent feed could only otherwise be sourced via soy meal, which is usually important from South America.”
Government backing needed
Royal said his focus and priority this year was to secure government and public backing on a nationwide introduction of E10 fuel.
A number of countries across Europe, North America and Australasia had already introduced E10 or higher blends of bioethanol into their unleaded petrol, he said, but the UK had “lagged behind” and was “failing to meet its domestic and international commitments in this area”.
Royal said he hoped the Department of Transport would soon publish its final RTFO report that included support of a nationwide rollout.
“In the event of E10 fuel being introduced in the UK, there is the potential to increase the market for domestic bioethanol. This inevitably increases the co-production of animal feed, and, of course the demand for feed wheat. As such, the introduction of E10 fuel would not only bring huge benefits to the environment by lowering transport emissions but also to British farmers by increasing domestic supply and demand and lessening their reliance on international trade at a time when it is becoming increasingly uncertain.”