The £350m Vivergo plant in Hull that will produce 420 million litres of bioethanol a year - about a third of UK’s current demand - has been opened today by Business Secretary Vince Cable.
The plant, a joint venture between AB Sugar, BP and DuPont, is said to be the largest construction project in the UK in recent years outside the Olympics and will become UK’s biggest bioethanol producer.
The site – a 25 acre brownfield re-development project - will itself employ about 80 people and is believed to support further approximately 1,000 jobs in the supply chain and related industries. As Vivergo has promised to work mostly with local suppliers, the plant is hoped to have a wider positive effect on economy in the region.
"Here we are turning an agricultural product potentially into very good fuel, blending for motor vehicles, creating environmentally friendly products. So it's good all round - economics, environment, jobs," the Business Secretary Vince Cable said.
Vivergo is set to become UK’s biggest buyer of wheat – using about 1.1 million tonnes a year, mostly bought locally in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The wheat is milled and brewed and eventually, alcohol is extracted – the final bioethanol that is usually added to petrol as a renewable fuel.
The protein and fibre left over by the process won’t be thrown away but turned into animal feed. The firm said it will produce 500,000 tonnes a year - sufficient to feed around a fifth of the UK's dairy herd.
According to Vivergo’s managing director David Richards bioethanol could offer greenhouse gas savings in excess of 50 per cent over standard petrol, which is equivalent to annual emissions of more than 180,000 UK – or, in other words, the company said it will produce an equivalent of 168 Olympic size swimming pools of bioethanol every year, which will have similar environmental impact as removing all cars from the roads of Hull and East Yorkshire.
Biofuel, currently making up around 4 per cent of today’s transport fuels, is sometimes discussed as putting food production at risk. However, Vince Cable advocated the advantages of bioethanol production. "There are these environmental issues to be properly taken into account. There are some questions being raised about food being displaced. But I think in this particular place, you've got a very, very good process. It's good for the economy and good for the environment."
Later this week the European Parliament Environment Committee (ENVI) will vote on proposals to reduce EU renewable transport targets, which involves biofuels, on the grounds that greenhouse gases may be released indirectly as a result of land that is currently not cultivated coming into production. This phenomenon is known as indirect land use change (ILUC).
Original proposals recommended an immediate limit to the contribution of crop-based biofuels to EU transport energy at 5 per cent and the incorporation of 'ILUC factors' into greenhouse gas calculations to account for notional additional emissions.
However, the Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE), who is jointly leading on this issue with ENVI in the European Parliament, voted recently in favour of a specific 2020 advanced biofuels target and a 6.5 per cent crop-based biofuels cap, and against the incorporation of controversial ‘ILUC factors’.
“No other land using industry is being forced to account for ILUC, and biofuels, which are the only viable way of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from our transport, should not be used as a guinea pig for ILUC accounting. Singling out crop-based biofuels would ultimately be counter-productive, as the biofuels market has been a great stimulus for investment in agriculture, which is critical if the world is to feed a growing population," said Clare Wenner of the Industry, Research and Engineering Committee. “Improving agricultural practices and productivity for all land-using industries is the only reasonable way to resolve the ILUC issue. We hope therefore that the ENVI Committee takes the recommendations of the ITRE Committee very seriously when the vote is taken on Thursday.”