1 März 2004

UK: “Oilfields” help create new jobs

North-east farmers have been urged to create “onshore oilfields” in a bid to boost jobs and income in the rural economy – and help the environment in the process.

The production of forms of fuel made in part from renewable sources is a rapidly emerging new market, with farmers and industrialists in a good position to take advantage of the opportunities it creates.

Around 180 farmers recently attended a conference at Scotch Corner to learn more about growing oil seed rape for use in biodiesel fuel.

Organised by Farmway, the independent farmers’ co-operative, the conference, at the Scotch Corner Hotel, featured speakers from companies already involved in biodiesel production, the National Farmers’ Union and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs .

Defra is leading the Government’s drive for reduced UK greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the development and use of cleaner forms of fuel. It believes the growing of energy crops such as oil seed rape will generate new forms of income for farmers separate to those linked to food production. Such a move could also create hundreds of harvesting and transportation jobs in regions such as the North-East.

The process of making biodiesel begins with oil being extracted and then being blended with conventional diesel fuel. It is increasingly being used in diesel cars and commercial vehicles.

The European Union is looking for around 2pc of all fuels sold in Europe to be those classed as biofuels – made in part from renewable sources – by next year, rising to almost 6pc by 2010.

At present only a small proportion of the UK’s overall diesel consumption is biodiesel. However, if this were to rise to only 5pc almost two million tonnes of oil seed rape would be required, needing almost 1,000 acres of land to be cultivated.

Rad Thomas of the NFU told delegates that in future up to a fifth of all agricultural land in the UK could be used for non-food related activities and biofuels had the potential to form a large part of that use.

The conference coincides with some major developments in the biofuels sector in the North-East.

Biofuels Corporation has announced plans to develop the world’s largest biofuels plant at Seal Sands, at the mouth of the Tees, costing around £25m.

Farmway is part of a wider consortium of companies looking to build a vegetable seed crushing plant to supply the raw materials for the proposed plant.

Meanwhile Petroplus, another member of the consortium and the owners of the crude oil refinery at North Tees, are already processing around 20,000 tonnes of `Bio-Plus’ biodiesel a month for use in commercial vehicles and could soon need up to 180,000 tonnes a year of oil seed rape to meet its expansion plans.

Dr Stephen Thomason of Petroplus said: “Biodiesel could be good news for farmers, industry and the environment. There’s a long way to go yet but we need to work more closely to ensure that the North-East doesn’t miss out.”

Source: Northern Farming vom 2004-02-24.

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