1. Wheat never used to get Charlie Goldsack excited. He's got fields of the stuff down on his farm, but as a cash crop there was one big problem: it didn't generate much cash. Rock bottom prices saw to that.
2. But now, the farmer hopes his wheat might literally become the driving force of his 1,400-acre Friar Maine farm in southern England.
3. Instead of heading to the bakery, Goldsack's harvest will now go to a nearby plant for conversion into bioethanol—part of accelerating British efforts to introduce cleaner car fuel.
4. "For a lot of farms, it was barely economic to grow wheat any more," he says. "This is just what we need—a new market. Hopefully it can soak up all the surplus and raise prices."
5. The simple arithmetic looks compelling. Goldsack's roughly 250 acres could yield enough wheat to produce a million miles' of car fuel.
6. Extrapolate that across all of Britain's farmland and you get enough bioethanol to account for 5 percent of all fuel used annually by British motorists—a target the government wants hit by 2010. In a pleasing symmetry, the amount of wheat required would be around 3 million tons, roughly equal to the excess produced each year that is unwanted by the domestic market.
7. "If this soaks up that surplus then it could add eight or nine pounds to the price of wheat," enthuses Goldsack, estimating that this would be worth about J 10,000 ($17,445) a year to his investment-starved farm.
8. While President Bush last week emphasized the need for cleaner cars for reasons of energy security, Britain's motivations are slightly different. As a signatory to the Kyoto pact on climate change, Britain must reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2010. With motoring accounting for almost one-third of emissions, and greener fuels like bioethanol estimated to reduce greenhouse gas output by around two-thirds, the logic appears indisputable.
Will oil companies stand in the way?
9. But there is a snag. Experts warn that biofuels are very expensive to produce—roughly twice as costly as gasoline—and can only become viable with generous government subsidies.
10. They also note that it will be difficult to create a network of "gas" stations selling bioethanol, since many of Britain's current gas stations are owned by petrochemical giants that have little interest in supplying a product that challenges their own hegemony. Britain's biggest energy producer, BP, says it is "looking at" introducing bioethanol, but none of its 1,300 gas stations throughout the United Kingdom sell the product yet.