Bio-diesel maker backed by Souter snapped up

Sir Brian Souter was one of the backers of Argent Energy, with his company's buses among the users of the firm's bio'diesel
Sir Brian Souter was one of the backers of Argent Energy, with his company's buses among the users of the firm's bio'diesel
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TECHNOLOGY developed in Scotland that turns chip fat into bio-diesel for buses is poised to be launched around the world after a company backed by Sir Brian Souter was sold to the owner of the Cathay Pacific airline in a deal believed to be worth £80 million.

Motherwell-based Argent Energy was snapped up by John Swire & Sons, a London-based conglomerate that owns companies spread across industries including food, property and shipping.

Under the deal, financial director Jim Boyd, chairman Andy Hunter and managing director Jim Walker will remain with the company. Walker said: “The opportunity is now there to take Argent’s skills further afield.”

Barnaby Swire, director at John Swire & Sons, added: “We are delighted to be acquiring Argent Energy, a company we believe can grow and prosper not only within the UK but also overseas, in particular in Asian markets, with which Swire Group companies are familiar.”

Argent had abandoned plans in 2008 to expand into New Zealand after claiming subsidies to competing products made the plan uneconomic.

The company was founded in 2001 and started producing bio-diesel in 2005 at its plant in Motherwell, where it employs about 70 staff.

As well as chip fat, the firm can turn “tallow” – beef or mutton fat – and grease from sewers into bio-diesel. Fuels made at the plant are used by more than 1,000 Stagecoach buses in Scotland and also by transport operators in Edinburgh, Cambridgeshire and London.

Typically vehicles run with 5 per cent bio-diesel and 95 per cent normal mineral diesel, although some buses are now operating on 30 per cent bio-diesel and Stagecoach has even run some on 100 per cent bio-diesel.

Souter backed a management buyout in 2009, while the European Union and Scottish Enterprise have also pumped money into the business.

Andy Macfie, managing director at Souter Investments, said: “We are delighted to have been part of the development of such an innovative company over the past four years.

“We wish the existing management team and the new owners every success for the future”.

Souter’s other investments include stakes in Falkirk-based bus builder Alexander Dennis, Turkish ferry operator Istanbul Deniz Otobüsleri and Polish intercity coach business Polski Bus.

The Perthshire businessman pocketed more than £100m from the sale of his stakes in insurance giant Esure during its flotation in March and Dorset-based yacht-maker Sunseeker, which was bought by Beijing-based Dalian Wanda Group last month.

John Swire founded his trading company in Liverpool in 1816, based around the textiles trade. The group has since grown to employ more than 121,000 staff, with its businesses ranging from bottling and distributing Coca-Cola in Hong Kong and parts of China and the United States through to making Dulux paints for the Asian markets.

In 2000, John Swire & Sons took venerable Glasgow-based tea producer James Finlay private in a £100m deal.

Swire had already been the biggest shareholder in Finlay – once one of Scotland’s largest publicly-listed companies – and shifted the tea firm’s head office to London in 2007, ending a 257-year association with Glasgow.