Biofuel industry ‘needs time to mature’

Biofuel is not only helping decarbonise the UK's transport sector it is reducing the need to import livestock feed from the Americas and South East Asia, says the National Farmers Union (NFU).

Speaking exclusively to edie, the NFU’s Combinable Crops Adviser, James Mills, backed biofuel production and said that in just four years biofuels has made “on average a 59% saving over the top of fossil fuels”.

Mills was responding to recent calls for biofuel production to be scrapped with claims that it exacerbates food price rises by diverting food to fuel.

However, Mills explained that the crops used for biofuel production, in most incidents, are not destined for the food market.

He said: “Wheat, for example, that finds its way into the ethanol market is a lower grade wheat than can’t be used for milling into breads or biscuits for instance, and is always destined for animal feed”.

“The benefit, from our perspective, of biofuels is that due to the refining process within ethanol and biodiesel there is a high protein content that comes out as a co-product at the other end. So you get ethanol or biodiesel but you also get a high protein that can be fed to animals, cattle for example,” Mills added.

The production of this protein co-product reduces the UK’s demand on imported soya from regions such as the Americas.

“The European Commission widely recognises this importing issue and domestically DEFRA are worried about it as well. The UK imports 80% of its protein for livestock consumption at the moment.

“In Europe we have a 20 million tonne a year deficit of protein so we’re hugely reliant on the Americas and on palm meal from South East Asia and as a result our livestock guys are at the mercy of a highly volatile protein market”.

According to Mills, biofuel reduces the demand of imported soya from the livestock sector and therefore frees up produce for the poultry and pig industry.

“It’s not simply a case of arable farmers just looking for another market to put their product into forcing up prices for them – it’s actually a cross industry benefit where we are seeing an increased availability of the protein for the livestock guys but also a sustainable market that offers the arable sector security that allows them to challenge production barriers that are in place at the moment”.

In October this year, Europe’s biofuel industry threatened to sue the European Commission for proposing to limit global land conversion for biofuel production due to their indirect effect on CO2 emissions.

The commission announced that using food-based biofuels to meet the 10% renewable energy target of the Renewable Energy Directive will fall to 5%.

Responding to the cut, Mills said: “If I had invested £100m in an ethanol plant and I’d suddenly been capped at 5% it doesn’t offer a great deal of growth potential. If you look at the UK at the moment we’re incorporating 3.6% biofuels into our transport fuel.

“We operate in an environment where people invest with the aim of getting money back and if you’ve put a hundred million pounds or more into a plant and your potential growth is around 1.4% you can understand why the biofuel industry would be making calls [like suing the European Commission]”.

Mills adds that it is easy to forget that biofuels are being challenged to provide savings over and above fossil fuel.

“The people that say biofuels aren’t green should realise that in the UK biofuel production is already demonstrating a saving and that’s after four years – if the industry was allowed time to mature who knows what the savings could be made”.

Leigh Stringer

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