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Biofuels

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 15 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department is taking to promote the development of (a) synthetic diesel and (b) other biofuel production from waste plant material. (125929)

I have been asked to reply.

The Government supports the development and use of biofuels primarily through fuel duty incentives. We also fund research into advanced biofuel production processes, including a recent DTI-funded study into biofuel production from plant biomass (details at

http://www.dti.gov.uk/files/file35818.pdf)

and a national non-food crops centre project to determine the opportunities for producing synthetic diesel and other materials from biomass to liquids technology (further details at

http://www.nnfcc.co.uk/funding/calls.cfm ).

At EU level, the UK Government have been active in developing and defining the Seventh Framework programme for research and development, which includes significant support for research into improved and new types of biofuels for transport.

In the longer term, the Government are keen to use the renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO) to promote the development and use of those biofuels which offer the greatest environmental benefits. The use of wastes, including plant wastes, has the potential to offer significant climate change and sustainability benefits. We are seeking views on the ways in which we might incentivise the environmental benefits of biofuels as part of our consultation on the RTFO, copies of which are available in the House Libraries.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will have regard to the growing of bio-fuel crops that (a) require deforestation and (b) inhibit sustainable food policies when developing his policy on bio-fuels. (127133)

Sustainability of production is one of the Government’s key priorities for biofuel development. That is why the Government are developing environmental reporting as an integral part of the renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO). This will require all obligated companies to report on the carbon savings and wider environmental impacts of their biofuels. The reports will include details of the previous use of the land on which the biofuel feedstocks were grown, and the impacts on biodiversity of growing those feedstocks. This will encourage companies to supply biofuels which deliver the maximum carbon savings with the minimum environmental impact. It will also ensure that we can monitor the impact of both imported and domestically-sourced biofuels.

In the longer-term, the Government will be looking to move to a system that allows only biofuels which meet certain minimum sustainability standards to benefit from the RTFO. However, developing a verifiable and robust system that is compatible with World Trade Organisation requirements on preventing barriers to trade will take time.

We anticipate that biofuels in the UK will come from a mixture of home-grown and imported crops, recycled waste vegetable oils and tallow. While some biofuel crops are likely to replace UK food crops, there are significant quantities of oilseed rape and wheat that are currently exported which could be retained for domestic biofuel use, with no loss to food production. Biofuel crops can also be grown on set-aside land, that is, land which cannot be used for food crops. In the longer term, as technology improves, straw and wood could be used for biofuel production.