New emissions research gives a boost to UK renewable fuel sector

Report is positive news for the renewable fuels industry and for to meet GHG emissions reductions targets

A five year study produced by a consortium of 23 organisations, including the REA, NFU, AHDB, Vivergo Fuels Ltd., British Sugar, and DEFRA, has shown that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by the UK’s arable sector are significantly lower than previously thought. The report is positive news for the UK’s renewable fuels industry and for the national effort to meet GHG emissions reductions targets.

Previous estimates have overstated the greenhouse gases emitted from growing arable crops in the UK by about 15%. This means that renewable fuels produced from UK feed wheat and sugar beet actually have an even lower carbon footprint compared to fossil diesel and petrol.

The REA says that the research conclusions, provided by the Minimsing Nitrous Oxide (MIN-NO) report, are a welcome boost for the UK’s renewable fuels industry and arable farmers.

The study, published on the website of the AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) after five years of intensive field research, showed that 30% of the renewable liquid transport fuels used in the UK comes from UK feedstocks with an average carbon saving currently of around 65% compared to fossil fuels.

The report demonstrates that the actual level of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas emitted from soil, is half the current theoretical value. This means, for example, that UK-produced bioethanol used to fuel petrol cars is even cleaner than current calculations suggest.

Key findings of the report include:

  • N2O emissions across UK arable land are almost half the previously predicted IPCC value of 1%per unit of nitrogen applied
  • Fertiliser abatement measures have reduced the GHG intensity of biofuels products substantially – by 15% for wheat ethanol and by 16% for oilseed rape biodiesel
  • The GHG intensity per tonne of UK wheat is overall 20% less than previously estimated
  • UK arable produced biofuels are more effective at reducing GHG emissions than was previously thought

These key findings will impact reporting of GHG emissions by the UK to international authorities.

Clare Wenner, Head of the REA Sustainable Transport group, said: “This major study proves that our domestically produced renewable fuels have a great GHG reduction benefit. Add to this the valuable high protein animal feed co-products that go back to livestock farmers and you have a fantastic environmental story. We should be proud of our achievements.”

Increased uptake of biofuels?

The results of the research could help increase the uptake of biofuels, which have been controversial due to the the estimated level of GHG emissions caused by indirect land-use change (ILUC) from the growing use of farm land for biofuel crops.

The transport sector currently gets around 4.4% of its fuel from renewable sources, meaning the UK is set to fall short of meeting its legally-binding target of 10% by 2020. In April this year, the European Parliament voted to approve the cap on first-generation biofuels and promote the move towards advanced biofuels, made from sources such as algae and waste.

The new legislation aims to reduce GHG emissions caused by increasing ILUC factors. Member states must enact the legislation by 2017. Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. Under the new law, first generation biofuels (from crops grown on agricultural land) should account for no more than 7% of final energy consumption in transport by 2020. Under the reform, fuel suppliers must report to EU countries and the EU Commission the estimated level of GHG emissions caused by indirect land-use change (ILUC), i.e. freeing up more to grow food crops, in order to offset that switched to biofuel production.

Commenting on the new report, NNFCC’s CEO Dr Jeremy Tomkinson said: “This research validates what we have know for some time – that UK agriculture provides one of the most sustainable production practices for the biofuels and emerging bioeconomy markets. GHG emissions are highly variable around the world, depending on how certain crops are grown and harvested.”

He added: “This study shows that UK farmers minimise the production of GHGs. It also shows that due to the production of a protein rich animal feed as a secondary product when producing UK ethanol, this brings back into use areas of land in more sensitive areas of the world, that were used to produce fuels on an relatively inefficient basis.”

To download the report click here.



Dr J. Tomkinson
Lead Consultant – Biofuels
Tel:+44 (0)1904 435182


NNFCC, press release, 2015-11-04.


AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board)
British Sugar
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA, UK)
European Commission
European Parliament
National Farmers Union (NFU)
R.E.A. Holdings plc
Vivergo Fuels Ltd.


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