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'My fields could fuel nation's industry'

The Hertfordshire Mercury, 22nd October 2005

DASHBOARDS made from cannabis plants, plastic bags grown in fields and surgical pins that dissolve inside the body — all these could be commonplace if only the Government listened to an East Herts farmer.

Scott Findlay, of Stanstead Abbotts, has earned the nickname Mr Bio among his friends for his efforts to bring a biofuel revolution to Hertfordshire.

He believes the nation is guilty of a terrible waste by failing to seize the opportunities of using crops as a source of green fuel.

Mr Findlay, who farms 2,000 acres at Little Briggens Farm, off Hunsdon Road, said: "The Government needs to realise that mineral oils are finite.

"It's such a waste. We've got a renewable energy source, it's biodegradable and the emissions are much lower."

To date, Mr Findlay has been hampered by a lack of interest in biofuels from successive Governments, which have stubbornly relied on the now-dwindling North Sea oil supplies to power the nation.

But, as the Mercury reported last week, calls for set-aside fields to be used to grow biofuel crops like oil seed rape are increasing, with both the National Farmers' Union and the Country Land and Business Association in Hertfordshire behind the idea.

Mr Findlay's interest in biofuel began 12 years ago. One of the earliest members of BABFO — the British Association for Bio Fuels and Oils — he travelled to France, Germany, Austria, Romania, Estonia, Bulgaria and elsewhere to investigate.

"Most of the western developed countries were doing it to some degree," said Mr Findlay.

"We wanted to get started here, but there wasn't a shortage of North Sea oil and we'd have needed a tax incentive. Then, it cost 20p a litre to produce fuel from crops, but oil out of the ground cost 10p a litre."

A fuel rebate has since been passed, and 5 per cent biodiesel mixes are on general sale for use in any diesel vehicle. Cooking oil, for example, can be treated for use by cars.

But biofuel crops — including Mr Findlay's oil seed rape — are still being exported for processing on the Continent. BABFO has estimated that another 1 million tonnes of biodiesel could be created here by putting set-aside land into production.

But these crops are not merely useful to create a carbon-neutral fuel for vehicles.

"A plastic bag made from biofuel could biodegrade in a year or so," said Mr Findlay. "And if you break your leg they might put in steel pins, but you could make them from biofuel and it would degrade over six months, by which time your leg would have healed."

He has previously grown hemp, the cannabis plant without its active ingredient.

"BMW and Mercedes use it to make plastic for their cars, so their dashboards are biodegradable," said Mr Findlay. "It's lovely to grow, but the margins are so tight."

Until the Government embraces this green fuel and approves processing plants in the UK, he fears its impact will continue to be limited.

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