British Sugar and BP biofuels deal

PUBLISHED: 08:30 21 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:03 22 October 2010

A new “green” fuel is to be made in Norfolk under a major corporate collaboration that will help to kick-start the county's fledging biofuels industry.

A new “green” fuel is to be made in Norfolk under a major corporate collaboration that will help to kick-start the county's fledging biofuels industry.

Just days after warnings that the UK was stalled at the starting grid while European competitors were racing ahead in the production of a new generation of biofuels, British Sugar last night announced it had joined forces with oil giant BP in the new venture.

British Sugar's new plant at Wissington in west Norfolk - currently under construction - will be converted to make the greener fuel, biobutanol, for blending with conventional petrol.

It means a bigger market for the new fuel - and could lead to more biobutanol plants being built across the country.

The partnership involves British Sugar, part of Associated British Foods, which is building the new factory at Wissington, near Downham Market, BP and chemical giant DuPont.

The “green” fuel will be made or fermented from locally grown sugar beet as the plant is converted from bioethanol to biobutanol.

“This is the very latest technology and this will be the first plant in Europe to use this technology which has only just become available,” said communications officer Helen Wilson.

“This is leading the field and using the latest techology and could result in the future in other plants using the same technology to produce biobutanol from wheat.”

The future use of wheat, which is in greater supply, could issue in a new era for East Anglia's cereal growers.

The conversion process will slightly delay the start of production from early 2007, which was the initial annual target for the 55,000 tonne plant. However, given the complexity of the conversion, it is expected to delay initial production to later in the year.

The move comes hot on the heels of a warning from the National Farmers' Union president, Peter Kendall, that the UK's biofuels industry was being left behind while France, Germany and Austria were already volume producers.

As reported in the EDP last Friday, he said: “There is a real indication that with the right signals we can have a strong and dynamic biofuels industry.”

Urging the new environment secretary, David Milliband, to grasp the nettle, Mr Kendall said the UK was “massively behind,” noting: “The rest of Europe and the rest of the world can make the economics stack up.”

Lady Shephard, the former SW Norfolk MP and agriculture minister, who chairs the eastern region's Bio-Fuels Forum, welcomed the “excellent” news, saying: “Biobutanol uses the same feed stock as bioethanol but the involvement of BP obviously ensures at last a market for environmentally friendly fuel.”

Dr Mark Carr, who is British Sugar's chief executive officer, said: “This is exciting news for the future of renewable fuels and a great opportunity for British Sugar to work with a leading energy company and a major player in the bioscience industry.

“British Sugar has led the formation of a biofuels manufacturing industry in the UK and we are delighted to be part of this opportunity to be at the forefront of future biofuels manufacture in the UK.”

The yield of biobutanol is expected to be slightly higher than bioethanol but it still uses the same raw material or feedstock and will have no impact on existing contractual supply arrangements with farmers and growers.

British Sugar will need to redesign part of the plant and secure modified planning permission but essentially it is a similar fermentation and production process.

British Sugar, BP and DuPont have also agreed to undertake a joint feasibility study which, subject to successful conclusion, could lead to the construction of much larger facilities for biofuels production using cereals, mainly wheat.

Biobutanol will provide environmental benefits over purely mineral oil-derived transportation fuels. It will reduce overall emissions of greenhouse gases and is a sustainable alternative for fossil fuels.

It can easily be blended with conventional grades of petrol and can already be used at up to a 10pc blend without any modification required to existing vehicle technology or impact on warranties. The level of inclusion could be increased in the future.

It has an energy content closer to that of petrol than ethanol and so offers better fuel economy than petrol/ethanol blends.

Most importantly, it can be easily blended into conventional grades of petrol and has the potential to be incorporated into the existing UK fuel supply infrastructure.

Wissington, which is Europe's largest beet sugar factory, processes about a quarter of the home-grown crop of sugar beet.

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