Green Spirit Pioneers Bioethanol Market

Written by Frank Hare

Green Spirit Fuels is one of a small number of companies that are pioneering the
bioethanol market in the UK. Founded by grain trader Wessex Grain in June 2005,
it aims to build the first plant to produce bioethanol from wheat at Henstridge
in Somerset, and is also planning to build bioethanol plants at other strategic points
in the UK.

Wessex Grain was founded as a farmers’ co-operative in the 1980s and became a limited company in 2003. The company has been exploring the possibility of producing ethanol from wheat for a number of years, and has been looking at examples of successful plants in Spain and Sweden where bioethanol production is well established. There is also a large industry in the US where it is made from maize, and in Brazil where the feedstock is sugar cane.

However, in the past two to three years the impetus behind fuels from renewable sources has gathered momentum, with increasing concerns about carbon emissions from both consumers and government, as well as issues over security of supply. In 2001, the EU issued indicative targets to member states of 2% of biofuels by 2005 and 5.75% by the year 2010. The UK government encouraged this by introducing a discount of 20p per litre on duty at the pump which applied to both biodiesel and bioethanol from January 2005.

Further legislative weight was put behind the move towards biofuels in November 2005 when the government announced its intention to introduce a Road Transport Fuels Obligation. In the April budget, the Chancellor confirmed that this would mean that fuel companies would have to include 2.75 per cent of fuel from renewable sources by 2008/9 rising to 5 per cent by 2010/11. He also announced the government’s intention to introduce enhanced capital allowances on investment in building plants for biofuels from 2007. This, combined with the increased oil price, has been driving activity in this market.

Having been founded as an independent company in June 2005, Green Spirit successfully secured its first round of funding in September that year. In January this year it received planning permission for its site at Henstridge, and will
commence building later this year, with a view to production commencing in 2007. Green Spirit’s MD Malcolm Shepherd points out that the use of ethanol in motor vehicles actually pre-dates petrol. “Henry Ford’s original Model T was actually designed to run on ethanol made from corn,” he says, “So in a sense we have just come full circle.

The fact that it offers savings on Greenhouse Gas emissions of anything up to 65 per cent means that it will undoubtedly appeal to consumers as well as government.” Although up to five per cent bioethanol can be used in existing petrol vehicles without affecting the manufacturers’ guarantee, plans are also well advanced to introduce an 85 per cent mix know as E85 into the UK. Morrison’s are selling it on some of their sites including those in Somerset which will serve the Somerset Biofuels Project. This initiative involves Green Spirit and Wessex Grain, but more significantly will see fleet owners such as the Somerset and Avon Police, Wessex Water and Somerset County Council running some E85 vehicles made by Ford.

More information on Green Spirit Fuels, the Henstridge bioethanol plant and bioethanol in general can be found at www.greenspiritfuels.com.

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