Power stations could be looking to farmers for fuel

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AGRICULTURE and the rural economy will earn much needed extra income from the use of non-fossil fuels in the production of electricity, predicts Professor John Twidell, chair of sustainable energy technology at Leicester's De Montfort University.

Professor Twidell's post is financed by a grant of pounds 750,000 from Tony Marmont, co-owner of Carter Wind Turbines. The grant will also pay for a 350-kilowatt wind turbine at the Lincolnshire College of Agriculture and Horticulture, Caythorpe. The turbine will sell excess electricity to the grid.

A non-fossil fuel obligation came into effect in 1991, enabling the Department of Trade and Industry to require regional electricity companies to purchase a small proportion of energy from renewable sources. This created a market for renewables, particularly wind generators. It has so far stimulated only an extra 600 megawatts of capacity from alternative sources but it is intended that this should rise to 1,500 megawats, about 2 to 3 per cent of total capacity, by the year 2000.

De Montfort University is to undertake a comprehensive research and development programme into alternative fuels. Much of the emphasis will be on the potential for agricultural products such as rape and linseed oil as sources of energy. In areas such as Lincolnshire, growing crops for energy could solve disputes over the use of set-aside land, Professor Twidell believes.

Equally significant, the research programme will investigate ways in which energy can be stored in fuel cells. 'We are looking at how electricity can go into storage,' explained Professor Twidell.

'If it goes into a chemical there is a much better chance of storing it. It's like a plant, which is a store of energy.'

Mr Marmont is a visiting professor at De Montfort University, as well as a benefactor. He made his money in a successful soft drinks business but sees non-polluting energy production as a practical necessity and a commercial opportunity.

At his own home he produces electricity from solar photo-voltaic panels and two windmills, with 85 per cent of what is produced being sold to the grid.

The Sustainable Energy Technology Centre is to be based in De Montfort University's new School of Engineering and Manufacture, one of the country's most ecologically advanced building designs.

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