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LONDON (Reuters) - A poor quality British wheat harvest this year has led biofuels producer Ensus to add around 20 to 30 percent imported European Union maize to its feedstock, wheat and animal feed manager Stewart Easdon told Reuters.
High disease levels following the wettest June since records began more than a century ago and a lack of sunshine in the key grainfill period damaged the quality of this year's harvest.
"We were struggling to run at anywhere near the rates we have done in the past," Easdon said, noting the key issues were the low starch yield and low bulk density of this year's crop.
The Ensus biorefinery in north-east England is designed to use about one million tonnes of UK wheat per year to produce around 400 million to 450 million litres of bioethanol, 350,000 tonnes of animal feed and 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Biorefining breaks down the starch stored in wheat or maize to sugars which are fermented into alcohol in a similar process to a whisky distillery. Bioethanol is a type of alcohol which can be used as a substitute for petrol.
Ensus is owned by U.S. private equity funds the Carlyle Group and Riverstone.
Easdon said maize had a much higher starch content and the company had switched to using a wheat/maize blend a few day ago. He noted the maize content was around 20 to 30 percent.
"It is early but the anecdotal evidence suggests there won't be problems and certainly a lot of (biofuels) plants in Europe use maize," he said.
Easdon said the company is relying on imported maize from the European Union, rather than alternative suppliers such as the U.S. or Brazil, due to the need to keep its byproducts free of genetically modified (GM) organisms.
"We don't put any GM products into the animal feed sector and our carbon dioxide customers also want a non GM assurance," adding the carbon dioxide was used in soft drinks and food production.
Easdon said the maize would continue to be included on an "ongoing basis" although the company hope to eventually switch back to relying completely on British wheat.
"In any other year we are committed to using (British) wheat. It is the most economical thing to use normally," he said, adding it would have been impossible this season to run at anywhere near capacity without making the switch.
Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by Patrick Graham