We can lead way to new greener energy

If there's one area of the United Kingdom which illustrates how we are moving from an economy based on oil to an entirely new world of environmentally friendly fuel technologies, it is the Tees Valley.

Dr Dermot Roddy, chief executive of Renew Tees Valley

Welcome to our comment column, in which leading figures from the business community in the region present a thought-provoking view on an issue affecting their company or organisation or the wider community. Today it's the turn of Dermot Roddy , chief executive of Renew Tees Valley.

If there's one area of the United Kingdom which illustrates how we are moving from an economy based on oil to an entirely new world of environmentally friendly fuel technologies, it is the Tees Valley.

Ironically it is because we have been a world-class centre for the petrochemical industry for so long that we are now in such a strong position to establish ourselves across a whole range of renewable energy developments.

The increasing need to meet the challenge of climate change has given a huge boost to the pace of developments for new fuel products - hardly surprising given that transport is responsible for around a third of the UK's CO2 emissions.

Already we have in the Biofuels Corporation's plant at Seal Sands - the largest biodiesel plant in Europe but that is just the start. Within two to three years, plants in the Tees Valley could be producing almost as much bioethanol as the current output of the entire European Union.

Four companies have already announced plans for bioethanol plants and other projects are under active development. The immediate impact is a huge investment running into hundreds of million of pounds and thousands of jobs in construction, operations and supply chain opportunities.

It also means we are in a pivotal position in achieving the Government's objective that at least five per cent of all road transport fuel should be from renewable sources by 2010/11.

Initially, at least, all of the bioethanol plants so far announced will use wheat as their feedstock and that is highly significant for our local farming communities, given that about 35% of the 2 million tonnes of wheat grown within a 60-mile radius is surplus to requirement and would provide sufficient feedstock for the largest of the proposed plants.

The interest in the potential for switching to biofuels is increasing all the time and later this month, at the TFM Darlington Arena on May 22, Northeast Biofuels will be staging a major event to promote the use of E85 - a blend of 85% bioethanol and 15% petrol - with presentations from Ford and Saab, who are both producing vehicles able to run on the new fuel, and the Morrisons supermarket chain who are keen to see it on their forecourts.

In the long run, there are hugely exciting opportunities in the synergy between different renewable energy technologies.

For example CO2 produced from the biofuels plants could be fed into the pipeline system being developed by Progressive Energy as part of its groundbreaking Carbon Capture and Storage power plant to help recover hard-to-reach oil deposits in the North Sea.

If that were to happen, we would have a means of effectively 'sucking out' CO2 from the atmosphere because the wheat used in bioethanol production has already absorbed large amounts of CO2 whilst growing.

Another opportunity could arise from the by-product of bioethanol production, known as Dried Distillers Grain Solubles - the Ensus plant planned for Wilton will alone produce some 400,000 tonnes a year. Currently much of it is used for animal feed but it has the potential as a feedstock for biomass power generation - another area where we are leading the way through SembCorp's Wilton 10 project.

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