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22 June, 2006 - 13:54 By Staff Reporter

Norfolk beets off competition to land new £25m plant

AB Foods will partner with multinationals Du Pont and BP to produce a green fuel from sugar beet

A £25m green fuel plant in Norfolk looks set to cement the East of England's position as the capital of the UK's renewables research effort.

A sector that has thus far centred around the efforts of small independent players and small projects funded by the Government, has been boosted by the entry of three industrial giants.

Associated British Foods, the international food group and owner of British Sugar, has announced a collaboration with BP and DuPont to begin production of the next generation of biofuels at Wissington in Norfolk. It is hoped that the new biofuel could be available at BP petrol forecourts by next year.

British Sugar’s Wissington bioethanol plant, currently under construction in Norfolk, will be converted to the production of biobutanol. The plant will use locally grown sugar beet as the feedstock and the biobutanol will be blended with petrol in the UK. Production is expected to start in 2007 and it is hoped the plant will produce 70 million litres of the green fuel per year.

The new Norfolk plant could become the blueprint for a UK-wide programme, using it as part of a feasibility study for the construction of a series of £100m plants across the country using cereals.

Biobutanol can easily be blended with conventional grades of petrol and can already be used at up to a 10% blend without any modification required to existing vehicle technology. There is potential to increase this concentration 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. Furthermore, it can be easily blended into conventional grades of petrol and has the potential to be incorporated into the existing UK fuel supply infrastructure.

“The agreement with British Sugar to start production of biobutanol at their Wissington plant has enabled us to accelerate its introduction into the UK market,” said John Manzoni, chief executive of BP’s refining and marketing division. “We look forward to making the first supplies of this new biofuel available to our customers next year.”

George Weston, chief executive of Associated British Foods, said: “Our collaboration with BP and DuPont will enable UK agriculture to be at the forefront of the development of biofuel technology and will enable biofuels to become a major part of the requirement for transportation fuels in the UK.”

It is estimated that UK farmers grow between two and three million tonnes too much produce, particularly wheat, each year. AB Foods said it hoped to utilise this surplus in biofuels if the Norfolk plant performed to expectations.

Rob Cameron, director of Cambridge corporate responsibility consultancy, Flag said: “BP’s decision to build a ‘green’ petrol plant is indicative of the change in corporate attitude to the environment.

“There is also an element of pragmatism behind the decision as the Government has demanded use of greener fuels, and punitive measures will be taken if business does not fall into line.”

He continued: “This is a timely announcement for East Anglia after the NFU announced its concern only last week that the Government has not done enough to address climate change and the renewable agenda in the region.”

The news will also provide a morale boost for the region's renewables technology cluster following the recent news that green fuels pioneer, Global Commodities in Norfolk had been placed into administration.


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