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Opportunities for Re-establishing Sugar Beet Production and Processing in Scotland

Category: feedstocks
Published: 18/07/2019
Author: NNFCC
Sugar beet could present an opportunity for Scotland to develop its industrial biotechnology sector.


  • How Scotland has favourable conditions for sugar beet cultivation
  • Any processing of sugar beet must take place nearby to minimise transport costs
  • There is potential for sugar beet to provide a boon to UK bioethanol and biogas sectors

Reasons to read

  • In-depth discussion of possibilities in sugar beet processing
  • Discussion of market opportunities for Scottish sugar beet

Number of pages: 77

Accessibility: This item is freely available


Scottish Enterprise and partners have a strategic interest in further developing the industrial biotechnology (IB) industry in Scotland and have identified the sugar industry as a potential sector for development.

Scotland offers favourable conditions for sugar beet production in terms of day length and soil moisture availability. Eight percent of the Scottish land area is suitable for arable production, equating to 625,800 hectares. This land lies primarily in East Lothian, East Fife, East Perthshire, Angus and Morayshire. As a bulky crop with high moisture content, transport can be costly and therefore any processing facility would need to be located within or adjacent to key growing regions.

A sugar beet refinery can involve a vast range of processing steps, and produce a vast array of outputs, from food, feed, fuel and chemicals, for example. In Scotland, due to pre-existing markets and competition from other producers, a sugar beet refinery would ideally focus on bioethanol and sugar syrups, for biofuel and biobased chemical production, but there would inevitably be additional co-product streams that could prove valuable as animal feed or for renewable energy generation. In order to overcome seasonality issues, it may be possible to import molasses into a sugar beet refinery, which can then be stored and processed to allow year-round production.

A domestic sugar beet refinery could produce sufficient bioethanol to meet the current 4% and future 10% blend requirement in the petrol fleet in Scotland, which amounts to 57 million litres in total.  Up to 20,000ha of land could be utilised, delivering over 170 million litres of bioethanol per annum from over 1.6 million tonnes of beet. Significant quantities of pulp could also be generated, and biogas could potentially be produced from additional outputs in the absence of higher value market outlets.

There are clear benefits, in terms of Scottish and UK food and energy security and potentially also in terms of the resilience and security of Scottish farming businesses if sugar beet were to be produced and processed in Scotland. Sugar beet ethanol shows high land efficiency and also compares well to other crops in terms of water usage and broader sustainability, as well as offering high levels of employment, both in sugar beet production and processing activities. A Scottish sugar beet refinery will help both Scotland and the UK to meet sustainability and decarbonisation targets, as well as contributing to the wider bioeconomy, which is expected to double in size by 2030.  

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