HC Deb 16 June 1986 vol 99 cc746-7
8. Dr. Twinn

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the University of Manchester Institue of Science and Technology's project to convert refuse into oil.

Mr. David Hunt

My Department is arranging to have an independent evaluation of the refuse to oil process carried out by a firm of consulting engineers. This assessment will be put in hand shortly and should provide an up-to-date appraisal of the technical and economic prospects and of the major problems that remain to be overcome.

Dr. Twinn

I welcome my hon. Friend's reply. Does he realise that we have in Edmonton the country's largest waste incinerator, which is already producing and recycling waste and producing 158,000MW hours of electricity a year? Can he reassure the House that the Government will continue to look for uses for waste to make sure that we get energy from it?

Mr. Hunt

Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend. I know that the country's largest municipal waste incinerator, which handles 400,000 tonnes of waste a year, is located in his constituency. My Department puts a great deal of money into researching ways of ensuring that we make the maximum use of waste. My hon. Friend has previously used the slogan that the nation cannot possibly afford to waste waste.

Mr. Douglas

Can the Minister give us more details about the project? Do the terms of reference include an examination of scaling up and comparisons with other projects, including the deriving of oil or gas from coal?

Mr. Hunt

A study of the Greater Manchester council—UMIST—project on the liquefaction of rubbish to oil was made by my Department's energy technology support unit last year. The indications were that while there appeared to be great potential in the project, a number of technical, economic and scale-up problems still needed to be overcome. The unit's assessment suggested that the process would provide less energy and at a considerably higher cost than direct combustion of refuse and would require a subsidy of about £22 per tonne to break even. However, following representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), I have agreed to a further study being carried out.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am most grateful to him for responding to my request to have the project reviewed? One of the leading exponents is Professor McAuliffe, who is a distinguished scientist and one of my constituents. Will my hon. Friend follow my example and visit UMIST to see the Manoil project for himself?

Mr. Hunt

I find my hon. Friend's request irresistible, particularly as he invites me to follow his example. I should welcome an opportunity of seeing the process for myself, and I shall make arrangements to do so as soon as possible.

Mr. Eadie

The hon. Gentleman must give the House more information, because he knows that Salford university's industrial centre carried out a feasibility study on that Manoil project and concluded that a commercial plant, at a cost of £12.5 million, would be feasible. How does the hon. Gentleman propose to fit that work into the remit of the independent consultant engineers? What will their review cost? The hon. Gentleman must also tell us why Harwell has so dramatically changed its mind.

Mr. Hunt

I reject the final point made by the hon. Gentleman, but surely he accepts that where we have a potential of this magnitude it is necessary to conduct the most comprehensive studies. I shall let the hon. Gentleman know the cost, and I accept his view that the study by the consultant engineers must have the widest possible remit so that we can look to the future and examine the potential of the process.