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Government prepares £25m prize for best crops for advanced biofuel production



The government has unveiled a competition to find the most effective plants that could be used as advanced biofuels – without using crops grown for food – but the industry has called for clearer policy framework.

The coalition will offer a £25m prize to the most viable demonstration of plants suitable for advanced biofuels on a large scale, in an effort to boost production to market level.

The funding will be provided over three years starting from 2015, to give judges time to come to a decision over a winner.

Speaking to the Guardian, transport minister Norman Baker said, “It’s hugely important that we decarbonise transport. We have been up hill and down dale on biofuels in the past few years.

What we need to do is distinguish between good biofuels and bad biofuels, and this competition will produce good biofuels.”

Biofuels have come under fire in the past. On an European level, some claimed that using land to cultivate crops for fuel would reduce the amount of land suitable to grow food.

Meanwhile in January, a study also outlined possible negative effects on health.

The Renewable Energy Association (REA), the trade body that covers the biofuels sector, has welcomed the government’s funding initiative, but warned that investors need much more clarity in the framework.

“Advanced biofuels, made using unconventional methods and feedstocks including wastes, can achieve exceptionally high environmental performance. The UK could certainly take a lead in developing advanced biofuels, spurring growth and creating jobs in a new industry”, said REA head of renewable transport Clare Wenner.

“We urge government to give investors a signal that the regulatory framework for renewable transport fuels will be extended beyond 2020 to at least 2030, to give entrants to the competition assurance that their investments will be underpinned by legislation.”

About Baker’s distinction between bad and good biofuels, Wenner replied, “The minister is absolutely right to say that advanced biofuels are ‘good’. But it is misleading to imply that current biofuels are ‘bad’.

“Current biofuels, which meet strict sustainability criteria, can make a major contribution to renewable energy and emissions reduction targets in the short term, and enable the investments for research and development into advanced biofuels, with even better environmental performance, over the medium term. The key missing ingredient for both is a clear and supportive policy framework.”

Further reading:

EU decision to cap biofuel use criticised by industry

New major biofuels plant opens ahead of crucial EU vote

Seaweed could be the future of biofuel production

Biofuels not responsible for global hunger, industry tells G8 members

UK to invest £10m in biofuels as report outlines negative health effects


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