Boost for biofuels as E10 petrol given green light across UK

Government claims using higher proportion of bioethanol in petrol can help cut car CO2 while boosting jobs across the biofuel sector

The government has given the green light for the introduction of E10 fuel partly made from bioethanol at petrol stations across the UK from September, in a move aimed at curbing the climate impact of road transport.

Following a consultation with drivers and industry, the Department for Transport (DfT) today confirmed the fuel – largely made from traditional petrol but with a 10 per cent share of ethanol from materials such as low grade grains, sugars, and waste wood – will be available at pumps later this year.

DfT claims the introduction of E10 to fuel UK vehicles could cut transport emissions by 750,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent to removing 350,000 cars from the roads, which is roughly the number of cars in North Yorkshire.

Moreover, it said the move would boost job opportunities in the North East, supporting 100 jobs at AB Sugar’s Vivergo plant near Hull and helping to boost demand for biofuels produced at other plants such as Ensus’s ethanol factory in Stockton-on-Tees, and British Sugar’s factory in Norfolk.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that while shifting towards electric vehicles remained key to the UK reaching its climate goals, using bioethanol in place of traditional petrol for existing cars also had a role to play.

“We’re going further and faster than ever to cut emissions from our roads, cleaning up our air as we accelerate towards a zero-emission transport future,” he said. “Although more and more motorists are driving electric vehicles, there are steps we can take to reduce emissions from the millions of vehicles already on our roads – the small switch to E10 petrol will help drivers across the country reduce the environmental impact of every journey, as we build back greener.”

At present, the two petrol blends known as E5 are currently widely available in the UK which contain no more than five per cent ethanol, but most modern cars will also still be able to use the higher proportion of ethanol contained in the new E10 fuel, according to the government.

However, as a small number of older vehicles – including classic cars and some manufactured in the early 2000s – are only able to use E5, supplies of the higher emission fuel will also continue to be maintained, it explained.

Dr Mark Carr, group chief executive at AB Sugar, welcomed today’s announcement, which he said had spurred the company to reopen its Vivergo Fuels plant near Hull that had previously ceased production in September 2018 due to weak demand and low ethanol prices.

“We’ve long been calling for this introduction as E10 is one of the quickest, easiest and most cost-effective ways of the UK reducing its carbon emissions whilst providing an economic boost to sustaining the British biofuels industry and the local and national economy,” he said. “We will be recruiting around 85 highly skilled green jobs in addition to the core team that remained in place during its closure in the North East of England and re-opening a new market for wheat farmers in the UK.”

Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Transport Fuel Association (RTFA), argued the British bioethanol industry had much to contribute to the UK economy, by supporting thousands of jobs, providing clean fuel, and producing an animal feed by-product.

Bioethanol production also offers farmers a market for lower-grade wheat products, while also reducing the need to import soy-based animal feed from South America, where there are often links with deforestation.

“There aren’t many opportunities for the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions almost instantly – most take significant time and investment,” Hartnell added. “Introducing E10 is an exception, in that it can reduce carbon emissions from petrol cars almost overnight.”

However, some environmental campaigners remain highly critical of the use of biofuels, arguing the sector has often struggled to deliver promised emissions reductions due to the knock on impact on that some biofuel feedstocks can have on land use.

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