Britain is now officially a producer of bioethanol fuel. The plant, already in operation for a few months, was declared open for business yesterday. Biofuels promise so much, carbon neutrality and reduced reliance on fossil fuels to name a couple. But there are potential pitfalls too – Katherine blogged about the issues of water usage in growing sugar cane back in February.
The new plant uses locally grown sugar beet as raw material, aiming to process up to 800k tons into fuel each year. Damage to world food prices is unlikely, since the sugar produced from the crop would be surplus to EU quotas and exported anyway. Scenes like the ‘Tortilla Riots’ in Mexico, shouldn’t be repeated.
Concerning environmental effects, the abstract of this paper (freely available from the CAB Abstracts database via Google) assures us, "…a significant proportion of the UK crop [of sugar beet] is being grown in an economically efficient way whilst minimizing environmental damage". Further reading can be found in this selection of abstracts here. The savings in carbon emissions could be equivalent to removing 40,000 cars from the roads. Good news when the European Union has set a target for all member states to increase the market share of biofuels to 5.75% by the year 2010. The plan is for fuel to be sold for blending with petrol and distributed widely. As flex-fuel vehicles become more commonplace (heavily dependent on biofuel becoming equivalently priced to fossil fuels), we may well see more industries of this kind being established.