UK’s Ensus ethanol plant to switch to wheat intake as prices plunge

21 Aug 2019 | Rei Geyssens

One of the UK’s two ethanol production plants, Cropenergies' Ensus, is set to switch its feedstock back to run partially with wheat after new crop prices fell to a one-and-a-half-year low.

The decision ends an eight-month stretch in which it ran solely on imported corn.

Ensus is expected to include British feed wheat from as early as September as UK feed wheat prices fell to £135.50/mt, their lowest level since February 2019.

It comes as a bumper crop in the UK has put pressure on prices, with the harvest expected to come in close to 15 million mt, its highest since 2015/16.

“Ensus is running on corn at the moment but the shed is filling up with lots of wheat. I’m hearing they are switching to a 70/30 wheat-to-corn ratio in October,” a UK wheat broker told Agricensus.

The Wilton-based plant can take up to 1 million mt of feed wheat each year, a major share of the UK’s crop, although it has been running solely on imported corn since the start of the year.

“They are switching to wheat now, I believe, but they will definitely switch in September,” a wheat merchant who declined to be named told Agricensus.

 “Sometime in September, Ensus will use wheat. The fact that they are buying wheat for September-October confirms they will be,” a second merchant said.

“We are unsure whether they will use corn, but they usually include a percentage in the total feedstock,” the second merchant added.

Corn versus wheat

The plant can switch up to half of its intake to corn if prices are more attractive, which it has taken full advantage of in 2019.

Competing Hull-based Vivergo fuels could only run on wheat and was mothballed in late 2018 as margins eroded.

“If you look at the spread of wheat to corn, it is a lot more advantageous to run on wheat now,” the first merchant said.

“With the current market structure, it would make sense they would have switched some of their capacity to wheat,” a third merchant added.

“They have been running 100% corn over the last months, from all sort of places, including Ukraine”.

Ensus had locked in all its overseas corn volumes by the start of July to ensure a run rate at 50% of  its nameplate capacity until the end of 2019, as wheat prices remained firm at the end of the 2018/19 marketing year in June.

The additional volumes of wheat going into the plant from September imply that either the capacity will rise above the current level of 50% or that Ensus has cancelled some of its previously locked in corn volumes.

“I think they had corn bought but the vessel been sold back and switched to wheat,” the broker said, although Agricensus was unable to confirm this with other market sources.

“With a big wheat crop and demand unlikely to rise too much with only one plant opening, I would expect a reasonable exportable surplus for wheat this year,” James Webster, Senior Analyst at UK farm agency AHDB told Agricensus.

The AHDB’s balance sheet for 2018/19 reflects “maize usage by Ensus and a prolonged shut down from Vivergo,” Webster said, adding that his “estimate would be that Ensus will be running on wheat and Vivergo will remain closed”.

That would mean a higher feed wheat usage and reduced corn usage in the 2019/20 balance sheet which the farm agency is due to publish by the end of September.

Ensus declined to comment on this story.


The news came as the National Farmers Union wrote a letter to governmental officials on Wednesday urging them to implement E10, a petrol blend including 10% ethanol, in the UK by 2020 – an increase from the current E5.

“British wheat growers are in a great position to supply wheat for both public consumption and the UK biofuel industry, but the lack of supportive policy is hindering their ability to deliver for the environment,” Tom Bradshaw, Combinable Crops Board Chairman, said.

Bradshaw added that it would establish a “secure market for British wheat” making farmers less vulnerable to market volatility and would cut the UK’s reliance on grain exports to the EU ahead of Brexit.