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Sugar beet could produce clean fuel and create jobs

Reintroducing sugar beet could help meet net zero targets

Sugar beet could help produce sustainable fuel and support thousands of jobs in Scotland, according to a study.

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 natural and 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.

It would also create roles in the burgeoning biotechnology sector – many of which would likely be in rural and deprived areas.


The study, funded by Scottish Enterprise and produced by the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC), found that switching to a local supply of bioethanol, rather than relying on importing it from Europe as Scotland currently does, could significantly reduce the country’s carbon footprint by more than 280,000 tonnes of CO– the equivalent of taking nearly 61,000 cars off the road per year.

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 1 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 have also been identified in the report as the optimal locations for a bioethanol plant. 

Mark Bustard, chief executive at IBioIC, said: “The report underlines the scale and significance of the opportunity for Scotland through the re-introduction of sugar beet and the creation of an associated bioethanol plant.

“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.

“Many of the largest consumer goods manufacturers in the world have committed to net-zero carbon targets and moving away from products made from petrochemicals is a big part of that drive.

“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.

“Not only could it safeguard many of the thousands of jobs in our existing chemicals sector, but it could create hundreds more through new opportunities and manufacturing methods.

“It is up to us now to take this first step towards a more environmentally friendly and future-proofed manufacturing supply chain, at the heart of a bioeconomy.”

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 (biological) products in the transition to a low carbon economy.”

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Linda Hanna, managing director at Scottish Enterprise, said: “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.

“This report shows that the potential rewards are thousands of new green jobs being created and existing jobs protected – many in our rural and disadvantaged communities, new crop opportunities for Scottish farmers, and dramatic decarbonisation of Scotland’s industrial sectors.

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