Midlands & East Anglia

Fuelling the future with Vivergo’s bioethanol plant

With the rise in fuel prices a hot topic of the day, investments in a secure future for the fuel industry is beneficial to everyone.  One such company working towards this goal is Vivergo Fuels, who is behind a £200 million bioethanol plant based in the Saltend area of Hull, Humberside.

Vivergo Fuels is a combination of Associated British Foods plc, DuPont and BP.  Both BP and ABF own an even share in the plant and DuPont has a 10% stake in the company.  European Investment Bank has injected £60 million into financing the project and once operational, it will become one of the largest biofuel production plants in Europe.  75 jobs will be created at the plant.

Vivergo Fuels’ plant’s annual goal is to convert one million tonnes of wheat into 420 million litres of bioethanol.  It will also produce 500,000 tonnes of high protein animal feed.

Bioethanol is a bio fuel, which is a fuel source that originates from living organisms by reducing carbon dioxide into organic compounds.  It is derived from the process of fermentation and is an alcohol made mostly from carbohydrates found in crops containing starch or sugar; such as sugar beet, corn or wheat.  These biofuels are then mixed with fossil fuels to cut the amount of oil that is being used.  This makes it a hugely beneficial and renewable source of energy and with petrol prices continuing to rocket, the production of bioethanol is a huge stepping stone between both the oil and agricultural industries.

A planning application for the plant was submitted in late 2007, with approval being granted the following summer.  Construction began in 2008, with approximately 900 people working on the site.

BioCnergy, a joint company consisting of Praj Industries and Aker Solutions has provided equipment, engineering, construction and project management services. The company has been helping to develop the plant with Vivergo Fuels since 2007.

The main structure of the Humberside plant is a steel frame, with aluminium framed windows.  Wall cladding is made from reconstituted stonework and the roof has profiled sheeting with aluminium standing seam panels.

Housed within the plant are eight 4400m₃ fermentation tanks, six silos to store 1500 tonnes of wheat, four cooling towers, a storage warehouse, dryers and a tanker loading bay.  There is also a process water treatment plant, which condenses, collects, cleans and recycles all of the water used at the plant.  These are set out across three different departments; the mill, the brewery and the distillery.

Alongside the main plant is a pilot plant, which has been conceived to focus on the development of the biofuel, biobutanol; a second generation biofuel.

The wheat used at the Saltend plant will be sourced locally from around the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire area, taking in 1.1 million tonnes of wheat each year.  This wheat would have previously been exported outside of the UK, so not only does the plant make use of British products it retains them for use within the UK.  The wheat will be milled into wholemeal flour, mixed with water, cooked, treated with enzymes and yeast and then distilled.  During the process the starch is transformed into ethanol, whilst the protein becomes animal feed.

At the moment 3% of fuel at UK service stations is derived from ethanol and is a more environmentally friendly product.  Vivergo Fuels predict that its use is the equivalent of taking 180,000 cars off the road per year.

It’s not a new thing either; bioethanol has been around since the start of the 20th Century, however it became overshadowed in the earlier days of the 1900s as oil was deemed a much cheaper fuel.  This is something that has clearly seen a role reversal as of late, with Brazil being one of the leading users of bioethanol, second only to the USA.

The fuel source has not had such a high profile across Europe, but it is believed that Vivergo Fuel’s Saltend plant will help to change that.  With new directives and legislations already in place since the beginning of the 21st Century, when the plant commences production in 2012 it will be the next step forward for a new generation of sustainable biofuels in the UK.

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Roma Publications

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