THE first shipment of bioethanol has been despatched by Europe’s largest wheat refinery on Teesside.
Tanker Clipper Nelly left Vopak’s North Tees terminal loaded with bioethanol product from Ensus.
As it set a course for a more prosperous future for Teesside’s biofuels industry, though, Ensus boss Alwyn Hughes warned that future expansion was unlikely in the UK if financial support was not forthcoming.
Ensus’s £300m plant at Wilton went into production last month, making green road fuel, valuable animal feed and for the drinks industry from surplus wheat supplies.
Bosses are hoping the 400 million litre plant will be operating at full capacity by the end of next month.
However plans to open a second plant could be realised in Europe, not the UK.
Mr Hughes said European authorities had come up trumps with offers of support if the company built a plant on the continent.
“We are running late and our cash is tight,” he said.
“If we are going to generate investment and move forward quickly, we’re going to need government help. We have been offered help from European governments.
“The UK Government has pledged £60m towards the green economy (on Teesside), but there has been nothing tangible yet. We would be very keen to invest in the UK. We’ve the capability to do so, but we will need clearly visible government support.”
The Wilton plant’s first shipment was headed for Rotterdam.
Bioethanol from the plant has been sold to Shell as part of a long-term deal, and will be blended with road fuel to help Britain cut carbon emissions and meet its renewable fuel obligations from UK sources.
Annual production from the Ensus plant alone is expected to meet about a third of the UK requirement under the Government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which requires 3.5% of all transport fuel in 2010-2011 to come from biofuels.
The saving in carbon emissions will be equivalent to taking 300,000 cars of the road.
The plant will also produce 350,000 tonnes a year of high protein animal feed, which will replace imports.
“This is a milestone for UK production of biofuels and a beacon of hope for the burgeoning green industry on Teesside,” Mr Hughes added.
“It’s a win-win for the environment, UK jobs and the economy at large. Our team and partners have put a huge amount of work into this.”
James Smith, the chairman of Shell UK which is taking all the output of the plant on a ten year contract, said: “It is great to see the start up of this major new plant producing bioethanol to be used by Shell.
"The Ensus plant is a strong step in the right direction for UK energy security and emission reduction.”
A ROUGH ride for the North-east’s biofuels sector:
MAY 2008 - D1 Oils made 20 staff at its Middlesbrough site redundant, as heavily subsidised US biodiesel imports forced it to move overseas to continue biofuel production.
The biofuels technology firm said it had ceased its UK refining and trading operations because foreign imports could satisfy demand for biodiesel.
JANUARY 2009 - V-Fuels, based at Blyth, called in the administrators, leaving the Biofuels Corporation plant at Seal Sands as the last remaining producer in England.
Both plants went into production in 2006, buoyed by then Prime Minister Tony Blair’s environmental pledges and the encouraging noises being made in Europe. The demise of V-Fuels was blamed on a combination of factors, including unfair US subsidies for biofuels.
JANUARY 2009 - The Tees Valley’s biofuels sector blasted the Government’s decision to put the brakes on the renewable fuel targets as a “missed opportunity” for the region’s green economy. The Government announced that the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation’s previously agreed 5% target - the percentage at which green fuels must be blended with mineral oil for diesel and petrol sales - would be pushed back two years to 2013.
NOVEMBER 2009 - Biofuels Corporation shed its 38 staff and the company ceased trading. CEO Richard Nickels said he remained hopeful for the future, but claimed the plant never properly recovered from unfair competition thrust upon the industry from US government subsidised biodiesel that was dumped into Europe.
MARCH 2010 - Ensus’s £300m bioethanol plant comes onstream at Wilton, heralding hopes of a new dawn for the Tees Valley’s biofuels sector.