Vivergo MD says 150 Hull biofuel plant jobs remain at risk due to 'government inaction'

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 20 Dec 2017

The managing director of a Hull biofuel producer says 150 plant jobs and hundreds of farmers who supply the farm are at risk because of ‘government inaction’.

Vivergo fuels, based in Saltend and with offices in Hessle, says that "enough is enough" and is calling on the Department of Transport and increase the amount of bioethanol required in petrol.

Currently all petrol is required to contain 4.75 per cent bioethanol but the government agreed to ensure all petrol had 9.75 per cent bioethanol by 2020.

However, Mark Chesworth who runs the Hull firm, says the current amount blended in petrol means it is unprofitable and therefore costs too much to keep the plant running.

The 150 workers at the plant have been retained for maintenance work but no restart date is in place.

More than 800 farmers, many of which in East Yorkshire, have also been affected by the plants shut-down, which began two weeks ago.

The MD says that farmers are the first to be affected and can be helped by the government coming forward to “meet its own targets”.

Mark Chesworth said: “We just want them to implement their own policy to their own timetable.

Read more: Why new lobster markets are needed to protect 450 jobs in our region after Brexit

“We believe that unless they do their bit the market is not sustainable. We want them come forward and meet their deadlines and targets.

“A key issue is that supply is now coming beyond the demand growth, as some are sitting on our hands in our view. It means the market is unsustainable and we can’t continue like this here. Something has to change.”

More than £350 million in capital investment has been put into the firm, with investors set to lose huge amounts if operations continue to be halted.

Vivergo Fuels site at Saltend Chemical Park

When asked what he believed was the cause of delays in enacting policy, Mr Chesworth said: “Brexit. Recently it feels like all domestic policy has taken a back-seat but obviously this something very time sensitive, so we want to make it clear that they should deal with the situation before it gets worse.

“This is just production that needs to take place to help meet their own green targets. Everything we talk about in parliament, with MPs, and with consumers, they agree with, but it has just been delay after delay.

“Shutting down the plant was very much a surprise. We never expected it would get to this point.”

Read more: Concern over Government’s renewable fuels guidance

Vivergo is pushing for E10 – a petrol blend of 90 per cent gasoline and 10 per cent bio-ethanol – to be forcibly enrolled by August 2018. Currently all petrol contains around 5 per cent bio-ethanol.

The Department for Transport’s Energy Task Force recommended lifting the blend level and introducing E10 in 2015. But the department did not begin consulting issue until January 2017 and has not yet committed to E10.

Mark Chesworth at the Saltend Plant prior to this month's shut-down

The firm has also clarified that “almost all” new cars made in the last three years can take E10 petrol without any adjustments.

Bioethanol also helps to meet renewables and greenhouse gas emissions targets set by the government, with bio-ethanol produced in the UK and Europe having on average 64 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.

Read more: Vivergo boss says time running out for bioethanol E10 fuel decision

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Almost doubling the sustainable biofuel supply by 2020 demonstrates our commitment to reducing carbon emissions from transport to tackle climate change.

“We are on track to make changes to the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO). This will double the use of renewable fuels, reduce our reliance on imported fossil diesel, and deliver emissions savings equal to taking another one million cars off the road.

“We are working closely with the industry and motoring groups to consider the issues around a potential introduction of E10 and the role government can play in this.”

Large amounts of high protein animal feed for dairy farmers is also produced at the site using excess protein produced from the brewing of ethanol. This will then have knock on effect to farmers unable to purchase this feed.

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