The Vivergo wheat to bioethanol manufacturing plant on Humberside has reopened after four months’ closure, but its owner has warned that its future is uncertain without government commitment to higher levels of renewable fuel inclusion in retail petrol.

The restart will increase demand for feed wheat in the North East at one of the UK’s largest intakes – crops there are already trading at a premium to the rest of the country and the region is sucking in crop from a distance – as well as increasing supplies of the high protein DDGS animal feed co-product which Vivergo can produce in a pelleted form.

Vivergo Fuels is owned by British Sugar, part of the AB Sugar division of Associated British Foods. Production at the plant ceased in late November due to what the company termed “unfavourable trading conditions due to weak ethanol prices and a lack of policy certainty, in part driven by Government inaction on the future of renewable fuels.” Vivergo has carried out maintenance and upgrading work in the interim.

Although Parliament approved a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation last month, this provides for an increase in the proportion of renewable fuels in transport from the current 4.75% to a target of 9.75% by 2020.

But Vivergo, along with the wider bioethanol industry, is calling for the government to introduce E10 fuel (10% bioethanol) by the end of the year, in order to lower vehicle emissions. E10 fuel is already used across North America, Europe and Australasia – introducing it in the UK could achieve carbon emissions savings equivalent to 700,000 less cars.

“With new petrol vehicle registrations rising to 63% this year alone, petrol hybrid vehicles also increasing and fully electric vehicles representing just 0.6% of sales, E10 represents the fastest and most cost-effective way to decarbonise transport, which is currently the highest emitting sector of greenhouse gases in the UK,” notes the company.

It adds that its £350 million investment into the plant, which first came on stream in 2012, was “predicated on the UK government’s commitment to the Renewable Energy Directive enacted through to transport fuel by the RTFO, and anticipated the UK market would be twice what it is today by now.”

Instead, “government inertia in developing legislation on this situation has further undermined confidence in renewables investment – not least the further development of alternative new technologies.”

“We are pleased to see the RTFO pass through Parliament,” says Mark Chesworth, managing director of Vivergo Fuels. “This positive step, combined with the completion of maintenance work, has prompted us to recommence production after being offline over the winter period.  However, there is much still to do if we are to sustain production and maintain this significant industry in the UK.”