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Stackyard News Feb 05

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Turning Crops Into Petrol And Manure Into Electricity

MSPs told Scottish farms can help fight climate change

Scotland's farmers have huge potential to contribute to the fight against climate change, according to NFU Scotland. Giving evidence to MSPs at Holyrood today (Wednesday 9 February), the President of Scotland's farming union, John Kinnaird, has highlighted that, with the right support, a new range of renewable energy resources can be explored. Mr Kinnaird is giving evidence as part of the Environment and Rural Development Committee's inquiry into the Scottish Executive's climate change programme.

In particular, NFUS is highlighting the potential to grow energy crops such as oilseed rape, which can be processed into environmentally-friendly road fuels. Biodiesel and bioethanol can both replace conventional diesel and petrol. Biofuels can be produced by processing farm crops such as cereals, oilseeds and sugar beet. They can cut carbon dioxide emissions by 50-60 per cent compared to fossil fuels (see notes for further details on biofuels).

Currently more than half of the biodiesel used in the UK is imported. NFUS has stressed that the suitability of Scotland to grow these crops should be exploited and government investment is crucial to kick-start the industry.

NFUS is also emphasising the potential use of biogas. That involves harnessing methane gas generated from the 13 million tonnes of manure and slurry Scotland's livestock produce every year. NFU Scotland calculates this could provide the energy equivalent to over 70 million litres of diesel. Britain's first power station to be fuelled on this harvested gas has opened in Devon. NFUS has welcomed the pilot projects to explore the opportunities in Scotland and would like to see these extended.

NFUS President John Kinnaird said:

"Scotland's farms have real potential to fight climate change with government support. We hear a lot about wind, wave and solar power, but we must remember that there is a massive pool of potential renewable energy being produced on farms across the country every day.

"Our climate is well suited to growing crops like oilseed rape. Given the continued increase in demand for transport fuels, an initiative which will significantly reduce their environmental impact should be treated as a priority.

"Half the biodiesel consumed in the UK is imported. That means jobs and investment being exported abroad. Farmers can produce the raw material, but we need the processing industry to actually use it and turn it into fuel.

"If the biofuel processing industry could get the same investment support and tax treatment as that available elsewhere in Europe, farmers would benefit from extra income, jobs would be created and, crucially, the environment would benefit enormously.

"The same rings true for harnessing methane from slurry and manure. Whilst its use as a fertiliser is important for our soil quality, we should be harnessing the natural gas it can generate as well. We welcome the six pilot projects on farms in South Scotland, but we would urge the Executive to consider extending this project. Turning waste into watts is what the Executive renewable energy policy should be all about."

Energy crop facts:

  • The latest figures from the European Biodiesel Board show that the UK produced 9,000 tonnes of biodiesel in 2003, significantly lower than other EU countries such as Germany (715,000 tonnes), France (375,000 tonnes), Italy (273,000 tonnes), Denmark (41,000 tonnes) and Austria (32,000 tonnes). . Germany's arable land area is only two and half times the UK's, however it is producing 80 times as much biodesel.

    The following details have been produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
  • Biodiesel and bioethanol are renewable and sustainable liquid fuels made from plant material and recycled elements of the food chain. Biodiesel is an alternative to conventional diesel and bio-ethanol is a petrol additive or substitute.
  • They are produced from normal farm crops such as cereals, oilseeds, sugar beet and fodder beet. The crops can be grown using conventional farming techniques and can be managed to enhance biodiversity.
  • Recycled vegetable oils and fats from the food chain can also be used to produce biodiesel, but supplies are limited.
  • In the future, it is possible that wood, straw and even household wastes may be economically converted to bioethanol . Biofuels can cut emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, by 50-60 per cent compared to fossil fuels.
  • Biofuels can be used in cars, vans, buses, lorries, agricultural vehicles, boats etc.
  • Biodiesel can be used either as a blend with mineral diesel (5 per cent biodiesel is common in France) or as a straight fuel. No engine modifications are required.
  • Bioethanol can be used as a 5 per cent blend with petrol with no engine modification. With modification, bioethanol can be used at higher levels (85 per cent bioethanol is common in the USA).
  • Production costs of biofuels are far higher than for fossil fuels, therefore duty cuts are required to make them competitive.
  • The UK is required to set targets for the use of biofuels of around 2 per cent by 2005 and 5.75 per cent by 2010.
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National Farmers' Union
NFU Scotland