One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Biofuels and More.
Most of us eat potatoes in some form or another, whether it is a packet of crisps for a snack; mashed, boiled or roasted potatoes in a Sunday lunch; chips or fries in a fast food meal. My personal favourite is roast potatoes.
Potatoes are very much a staple diet item in the UK and have been for hundreds of years. It may surprise you to know that potatoes originated from South America and were brought into Europe by the Spanish during the 16th century. We tend to take these starchy tubers for granted, most of us blissfully unaware what goes on behind the scenes to get them to our table. The potato industry is rocked by supply and demand changes seasonally. Each year the price per tonne of potatoes changes as a result.
Potatoes are a perishable commodity and as such rigorous protocols are adhered to in order to minimise losses after harvesting takes place. So many factors affect the lifespan of the picked potato. Potatoes are subject to shrinkage, through water loss; greening if not kept in dark conditions; they need to be kept in cool conditions to prolong the lifespan and reduce and prevent losses; warmed to allow healing and minimise damage. After potatoes are harvested they are processed through cleaning equipment which removes soil and stones, grading equipment which orders into sizes, manual inspection tables to examine the potatoes prior to packing before they are stored. Potato losses can occur at any point along the supply chain, which means that not all potatoes make it to their primary market place. Sub-grade potatoes can be used in the catering, convenience food and crisp markets or as animal feed. However, depending on the level of damage or degradation they may not have a market in any of these routes. So what to do with these potatoes?
Well work at the Biofuel Research Centre has been investigating just this. Potatoes can be used in the Acetone Butanol Ethanol (ABE process) to be converted into these solvents, as well as hydrogen gas and a high-protein animal feed. Over 5.5 million tonnes of potatoes were produced in the UK in 2013 (20% in Scotland alone), making the UK the World’s twelfth largest producer. There is as much as 15-25% of these potatoes lost every year in the UK due through disease, storage deterioration and through grading processes. This makes for a readily available, sustainable and renewable feedstock for biofuel production, which does not impact on the food supply market and animal feed is still available at the end of the process.
The rather hypnotic potato sorting process.
Why not celebrate potatoes with Chip week which is from 16-22 February.