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Fuel Crops

Volume 201: debated on Monday 13 January 1992

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made in the United Kingdom in growing crops economically for use as fuel or energy; what research facilities his Department is able to provide for this activity; and what studies have been made of the practice in other EC countries.

A wide range of crops for use as fuel or energy has been studied as part of the renewable energies programme of the Department of Energy. In recent years this work has concentrated on short rotation coppice wood because this gives good yields of dry biomass. For the same reason, there is interest in high yielding grasses such as miscanthus. At present, the growing of crops for fuel or energy is uncompetitive with more conventional energy sources but this could change in the future. The most promising energy sources appear to be wood and straw through direct burning but the economics are not yet attractive enough to encourage industrial use on any appreciable scale. Liquid fuels such as ethanol from cereals or sugarbeet or biodiesel from oilseed rape are also uncompetitive at the present time.The Ministry has experimental husbandry farms, within its Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, which is shortly to become an agency, and these would be available for growing energy crops, if it was considered that additional sites were needed to supplement those already in existence.

Other EC countries are also interested in crops for energy purposes, especially in wood and high yielding grasses. Germany and France have shown particular interest in ethanol from sugarbeet or cereals.

An excellent account of the prospects for renewable energies from crops is contained in the evidence given to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, Session 1990–91, seventh report "Non-Food Uses of Agricultural Products".