Farming News - NFU outraged by results of biofuel policy

NFU outraged by results of biofuel policy

01 May 2012

A UK farming union has expressed indignation at the discovery that 90 per cent of biofuels supplied in the UK are made from imported feedstock, rather than crops grown in the country.


The NFU today described the discovery as a “slap in the face” for UK biofuel growers and processors. It has accused the Department for Transport of poor policy making on biofuel targets after government figures revealed nine out of every 10 litres of biofuel supplied in the UK are imported.


The figures, from the UK Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO), show biofuel production from British raw materials was lower last year than in the previous year, when 22 per cent of biofuels originated from British feedstocks.


The RTFO is a market-based mechanism which aims to encourage the sustainable supply of biofuels to contribute towards climate change and renewable energy commitments. The Department for Transport responded that the NFU’s anger is misplaced; a DfT spokesperson succinctly commented, “The market determines where the fuels come from.”


NFU chief arable adviser Guy Gagen commented on the fall in biofuel production from UK crops, “These figures show the damaging impact of UK government dithering over the past year, with British production capacity lying idle and British-grown and processed biofuel feedstocks progressively replaced by imports. A combination of policy delay, inaction and extending timescales for renewable transport fuel targets has hit UK use of home-produced biofuels hard.


The NFU spokesperson claimed that third country biofuels and used cooking oil, also used as transport fuel, “do not meet the same sustainability standards for crop feedstocks as EU and UK crop based fuel,” and went on to assert that the figures reveal farmers in the UK have been let down by the government.


He continued, “As a biofuel feedstock, Used cooking oil benefits under the UK RTFO by being double-counted compared to UK beet, wheat or oilseed rape based fuels, but it is mostly imported and of uncertain provenance– a perverse outcome indeed. It was good to hear last week that the Prime Minister is ‘passionate’ about renewables, including bioenergy, but his government has got to get behind the domestic renewable fuels sector and stop putting barriers in the way of British growers and processors.”


The Department for Transport spokesperson defended used cooking oil, but acknowledged that it too will often not meet the strict criteria necessary to pass RTFO standards. He said, “Used cooking oil-based biodiesel offers carbon savings of around 83 per cent, some of the highest delivered by any biofuels. All biofuels supplied under the RTFO are required to meet sustainability criteria, demonstrating carbon savings and showing that cultivation of crops did not damage carbon sinks such as forests or important wildlife habitats. However, Biodiesel from used cooking oil is not expected to demonstrate compliance with the land use criteria, as it comes from a waste material rather than a crop.”


Despite efforts to increase domestic biofuel production, including the opening of a new processing factory in Hull which makes biofuel from wheat grown principally in the surrounding area, which precipitated a significant PR drive, biofuels have been subject to harsh criticism in the UK.


Environmentalists have suggested that growing biofuel crops leads to direct and indirect land use change, causing rises in food prices and degradation of the land, including deforestation. Furthermore, although the crops are a renewable source of fuel, detractors contest industry figures and state that they are no less polluting than the fossil fuels policy makers are attempting to replace.


It is in ensuring that these adverse effects of biofuel production are minimised that measures such as the RTFO become necessary, according to the government.