Refinery support

Airport chief calls for green fuel push for Grangemouth

Gordon Dewar: ‘give Grangemouth a future’ (pics: Terry Murden and United Airlines)

Edinburgh airport chief executive Gordon Dewar has called for a renewed push from government ministers to convert the Grangemouth refinery to the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Mr Dewar told an event in Edinburgh today that the airline industry wants to make the switch to SAF and turning Grangemouth into a manufacturer would give the refinery a future beyond 2025 when it is scheduled to close.

Petroineos, which operates Grangemouth, has undertaken a feasibility study, co-funded with the Scottish Government, to assess whether the refinery has the potential to make the transition.

SAF is produced from waste fats such as used cooking oil, and from oil trees purposely grown on degraded land.

But because there are not enough sources to produce it at meaningful scale there are limits on the number of factories. The UK has plans to build five, all of them in England. Limited supply is also making it four times more expensive than standard aviation fuel.

Scotland’s Economy Secretary Mairi McAllan said earlier this year that Grangemouth could become home to “Scotland’s only sustainable aviation fuel production plant, capable of meeting future aviation demands for decades to come”.

She said a transition to hydrogen production and biofuels manufacturing potentially offer the opportunity to transition to “new sustainable jobs”

The UK’s Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero Graham Stuart told a meeting of the Grangemouth Future Industry Board on 18 January that lifting the cap was unlikely.

Iain Hardie, head of legal affairs at Petroineos, told the same meeting that the mandate prevents the business from progressing with further investment and puts the country at a disadvantage in comparison to Europe.

Grangemouth faces closure next year (pic: Terry Murden / DB Media Services)

The cap will force the local industry to use other feedstocks and production techniques and will “hinder the progress of delivering biofuels at pace”, he said.

In a debate on the economy the Scottish parliament today, Scottish Labour Economy spokesperson Daniel Johnson said “Workers at Grangemouth must not pay the price for the chaos and incompetence of Scotland’s two governments.

“The closure of Grangemouth refinery would cost workers their livelihoods, devastate the local community, damage Scotland’s economy and potentially weaken our energy security. We need some political leadership to save this site.”

At today’s event in Edinburgh organised by Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, Mr Dewar also called for a renewed push on achieving pre-clearance status for Scottish airports, freeing up time for passengers to get through immigration and customs.

He told an audience gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of United Airlines operating direct flights between the US and Edinburgh, that since the introduction of pre-clearance in 2011 Dublin had more than doubled its transatlantic capacity, and become the fifth largest airport in Europe for handling traffic to and from North America.

Since 2019 US visitors to Ireland had spent €1.5 billion, double the amount spent in Scotland.

He said Dublin had benefited from having a national carrier – Aer Lingus – and would encourage an airline to base its operations in Scotland.

United Airlines
United Airlines has marked 20 years at Edinburgh Airport

Talks about introducing the pre-clearance system to Scotland has been going on for years and Mr Dewar said the governments were “ready to sign” in 2019 before Covid struck.

“We need the UK government to get this over the line and make it happen,” he said.

He noted that Edinburgh will have 17 long haul routes this summer and transatlantic traffic is driving this “phenomenal” growth rate. There were 628,000 direct transatlantic passengers last year, 48% more than in 2019. Of these, 75% were inbounds, representing a boost to the Scottish economy.

Figures also showed that US visitors were staying longer and spending more. They stayed for an average of 9.5 nights in 2022, up 42% on 2019.

He said these figures could rise substantially with pre-clearance in place. Installing a system would require £10m investment and take between two and three years to become operational.

Karolien De Hertogh, director of sales for the UK and Ireland at United Airlines, told the meeting that it was committed to serving the Scottish capital and that passengers will benefit from an order for new aircraft, providing more seats.

Passengers travelling from Edinburgh were 6% business against 94% leisure.

On the SAF issue, she said the company was investing in biofuel technology, including systems for capturing carbon in the air and on pre-clearance she said: “We are in favour of frictionless travel.”

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