Associated British Foods, DuPont and BP have announced a £200 million proposal for one of the world's largest biofuel plants to be built on BP's chemical site at Saltend, Hull.
Since 1996 the number of vehicles on the road has increased from around 27 million to over 33 million, and the transport sector currently accounts for approximately a quarter of total UK carbon emissions. Combined with continually rising fuel prices and increasing emphasis on reducing carbon emissions to combat global warming, it was clear that an alternative and renewable source of fuel was needed. Many see Biofuel as the answer.
The Renewable Energy Centre defines the term Biofuel as the fuels derived from Biomass; including arable crops, agricultural waste and by the anaerobic digestion of sewage. The theory behind using biofuel, specifically bioethanol, for fuelling vehicles is that the carbon dioxide emitted during its the production and consumption should be equal to that absorbed in the lifetime of the plant used to produce it. More information can be found in the biofuels section at www.therenewableenergycentre.co.uk
Associated British Foods (ABF), DuPont and BP recently announced their joint biofuel venture, a £200 million plan for one of the world's largest Biofuel plants, producing 420 million litres of bioethanol a year from low grade UK wheat feedstock. ABF stated that the environmental benefit of the plant would be the equivalent of taking a third of a million cars off Britain's roads each year.
The proposed plant will be commissioned in two years time and this will be a major step forward in helping the UK meet the EU Renewable Fuel Obligation. This target requires transport fuel suppliers to ensure that by 2010, 5% of all road vehicle fuel supplied to the UK is from sustainable or renewable sources. The Renewable Energy Centre is in support of the proposal as a positive step forward but also said as with all renewable initiatives, it is important to see this as only part of the much wider programme to reduce UK emissions.
However, a key criticism of the biofuel industry is that due to the rise in demand for automotive biofuels the fuel and food markets will clash. UK Farmers will be able to make more profit from using their land to grow wheat for the production of bioethanol than they would for food and therefore inevitably the price of some foods in the UK will rise.
Frontier Agriculture, the company responsible for sourcing the raw materials said the plant would require one million tonnes of wheat but Finance Director of ABF John Bason insisted that the increased demand for wheat would be unlikely to push up food prices. He explained that the new plant would be using low grade feedstock typically used for animal feed and that currently the UK produces a surplus of 3 million tonnes of this standard of wheat so there should be no cause for concern.
Richard Simmons from The Renewable Energy Centre commented "Biofuel should prove to be a very realistic part of the future alternative to fossil fuels but will only truly reduce the impact we are having on the environment if we realise that it cannot be used in isolation. It is important that we also work towards more fuel efficient cars and reduce our often excessive use of vehicles. The Renewable Energy Centre has a section dedicated to Biofuels for anyone to gain a further understanding of the product and how it benefits the environment"
The biofuel industry is rapidly growing and BP are already focusing on developing the next generation of biofuels, which are more efficient and use non-food crops such as straw. Only time will tell if Biofuels will successfully replace petrol as the fuel for the future or whether it will be causing as many problems as it is seeking to solve.
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