UK contemplates a future without bioethanol

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Veresovich
© GettyImages/Veresovich
A report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Bioethanol paints a gloomy picture for British wheat and livestock farmers if the UK Government refuses to back E10, but is a future without cereal-derived bioethanol really that bad?

British livestock farmers will be forced to purchase feed from less sustainable sources and wheat farmers will lose a lucrative outlet for surplus feed wheat if the British bioethanol industry is lost, the pro-bioethanol cross party group warns.

According to a report​ produced by the APPG, the UK economy will “likely soon lose its bioethanol industry…without the swift introduction of E10 by 2020 at the latest”​.

E10 is a renewable transport fuel consisting of unleaded petrol blended with 10% bioethanol. Three plants in the UK – Vivergo Fuels (Humberside), Ensus (Wilton on Teesside) and British Sugar (Norfolk) have the combined capacity to produce 890 million liters of the renewable fuel. Vivergo and Ensus use feed wheat as the raw material, generating distillers dried grains and solubles (DDGS) – a high protein animal feed – as a co-product. 

An industry in crisis

However, Vivergo has now ceased production and Ensus is only producing on a reduced scale to meet local customer requirements.

“Without a step change in UK demand driven by the swift introduction of E10 in the UK it is difficult to reasonably assume all three plants operating continuously again or at full capacity, and for the current collapse in production and investor confidence to be reversed,” ​wrote the report’s authors.

Feed and farming implications

The collapse of the UK bioethanol industry has implications both for British wheat farmers supplying these plants and livestock producers who buy DDGS.

In the report, Vivergo estimates that at the height of British bioethanol production, this outlet was worth an additional £1m per month to British wheat farmers compared to alternative markets. This is because the British bioethanol Industry acts as a “relief valve”​, said the report, helping to ensure UK farmers received a good price for their feed wheat, rather than having to compete with some of the lowest cost production countries such as Ukraine.

One of the concerns raised in the APPG report is that if the British bioethanol Industry is lost, livestock farmers will be forced to purchase feed from less sustainable sources. “British farmers will need to purchase an increasing volume of animal feed from less sustainable sources, in particular soy-based feed from regions in South America, further exacerbating the issue of deforestation​,” wrote the authors.

View from the AIC

The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) told this publication it is fully aware of the concerns about the feed industry’s reliance on the import of certain categories of proteins. However, it pointed out that the recently published EU Feed Protein Balance Sheet shows that overall, about 80% of the total EU use of feed sources is of EU origin and import dependency is concentrated on the high-protein category of feed sources.

The AIC also offered assurance that “the feed industry, not just in the UK, but across Europe and beyond, has been investing heavily in ensuring sustainability within feed supply chains. AIC has formed its own Sustainability Committee to consider the issue and the Confederation is heavily involved in a range of sustainability initiatives, including UK roundtables for soy and palm oil.”

The APPG’s report comes ahead of an anticipated announcement on E10 later this year by the UK Government’s Department for Transport. Both the APPG and the AIC are hoping that this announcement will see the UK government giving E10 the green light.

The AIC said its feed sector is “supportive of any measures which encourage the development of home-grown plant proteins suitable for use in animal feed”.

“We would envisage increased availability of a wider range of feed products based on vegetable protein – something that would benefit the UK at a time when there appears to be a reduction in the area of oilseed rape grown,”​ James McCulloch, head of the feed sector at the AIC, told FeedNavigator, when explaining how UK government backing of E10 would assist with the development of feed co-products.

No guarantees

Even if the Government does elect to support the introduction of E10, there is no guarantee that this will save the flailing bioethanol industry.

Valero Energy, which operates a petrol refinery in Pembrokeshire, was quoted in the report as suggesting that market competition, together with feedstock availability and pricing, had led to the production facility shutdowns – not a lack of progress on introducing E10.

“The reality is that non-UK suppliers are able to undercut domestic producers, and that the introduction of E10 will simply lead to more imports,” ​said the company, in written stakeholder evidence submitted for the report.

This article was amended on July 26, 2019 to ensure the comments attributed to the AIC accurately reflected accurately its position on the introduction of E10 in the UK. 

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