Growing sugar beet in Scotland and processing the crop at a purpose-built biorefinery facility, initially producing bioethanol, could support thousands of jobs and make a significant contribution to the country’s net zero ambitions.
This is according to a study funded by Scottish Enterprise and produced by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC).
It found that at least 815 jobs could be directly created by moving towards domestically produced bioethanol as a sustainable feedstock for manufacturing, along with hundreds more through associated supply chain and logistics services.
Sugar extracted from sugar beet can be used in the production of ethanol as a sustainable substitute for petroleum-based chemicals used in a range of household goods, as well as antibiotics, therapeutic proteins and for transportation.
Such a project would also safeguard many of the 11,000 jobs in Scotland’s chemicals industry, which is increasingly moving towards alternatives to fossil fuels, and create new roles in the burgeoning biotechnology sector – many of which would likely be in rural and deprived areas.
Switching to a local supply of bioethanol, rather than relying on importing it from Europe as Scotland currently does, could also significantly reduce the country’s carbon footprint by more than 280,000 tonnes of CO2 .
The study builds on crop trials conducted in 2020 that found Scotland can grow sugar beet at competitive yields.
IBioIC’s report sets an initial target of growing one million tonnes of sugar beet annually, which could in turn produce 110 million litres of bioethanol per year – expected to be around 75% of Scotland’s current needs for transport.
Dundee, for its proximity to suitable agricultural land, or Grangemouth, because of its access to power generation, water treatment, a major port, and existing presence of chemicals companies, were identified in the report as the optimal locations for a bioethanol plant.
Mark Bustard, chief executive at IBioIC, said: “The introduction of the new E10 mandate, meaning 10% of petroleum fuel is blended with bioethanol, effectively doubles our need for sustainably sourced ethanol overnight.
“However, it is merely a precursor to much bigger changes ahead and sustainable indigenous sugar supply from biomass is a key component in growing a significant new cluster in Scotland.
“Bio-based production is the future of manufacturing in a net-zero Scotland and sugar beet is at the core of Scotland’s opportunity to develop a sustainable feedstock and compete on the global stage.”
Trade Minister Ivan McKee said: “When managed carefully, renewable resources offer a potential pathway to transform our manufacturing sector and create new value chains for bio-based products in the transition to a low carbon economy.
“The report’s publication is especially timely as we look forward to the final refresh of the National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology, which will be published next year.”
Linda Hanna, managing director at Scottish Enterprise, added: “Not only can sugar beet provide a credible, sustainable, low carbon alternative to fossil carbon for manufacturing, it can also accelerate the growth of Scotland’s biotechnology sector.
“The private sector is critical to achieving this growth by getting behind sugar beet and its potential for a wide range of bio-based products – Scottish Enterprise stands ready and is keen to work with pioneers in agriculture, manufacturing, and biotechnology as they consider how they collaborate and innovate to take opportunities to market.”
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