A PRODUCER of environmentally-friendly fuel in County Durham expects turnover to soar in the next two years following the opening of at least five biodiesel plants worldwide.

Ray Johnson, a director at Worldwide Bio Refineries (WBR), which is in the process of moving from Stanley to bigger units in Newton Aycliffe, said turnover is likely to climb from £4m this year to a nine-figure sum by 2007.

The firm runs the UK's only dual-purpose plant manufacturing both biodiesel, made from virtually any vegetable oil including rape seed oil and palm oil, and a type of oil known as polyurethane polyols, which WBR uses to make wall, roof and insulation panels for its housing division.

WBR also has similar plants in Malaysia, India and Indonesia and is in the process of developing the world's biggest biodiesel plant, in terms of output, in Singapore.

Between them, they produce 400,000 tonnes of biodiesel and polyurethane polyols every year.

Mr Johnson said that amount would rise to at least 750,000 tonnes following the opening of additional plants in Nigeria, Scandinavia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

Company chief executive Denis Potter has worked for about 30 years designing and developing the patented technology used in the production of biodiesel and polyurethane polyols.

"We use the very latest micro-technology, which makes us unique and means we can produce ten tonnes of biodiesel from raw material in one vessel in just one hour," he said.

"When we started 30 years ago nobody was interested in making anything out of vegetable oil - mineral oil was the thing at the time.

"Biodiesel is now very fashionable.

"Our advantage is that, because we have been doing it for so long, we have the expertise, the experience and the technology.

"We can make biodiesel and polyurethane polyols from almost any oil available.

"In this country we use rape seed oil, which is very high quality. Overseas we use soya oil, palm oil or cotton oil.

"The end product is practically the same and all to the same standard."

The firm, which employs 15 people in the UK and 40 overseas, sells its products worldwide, including to large haulage firms and bus companies.

The firm's housing division, Worldwide Environmental Technologies Holdings, revealed earlier this month that it had secured a deal worth millions of pounds to rebuild homes lost in the Boxing Day tsunami in Asia.

The firm is opening a factory in Sri Lanka and will supply its low-cost, earthquake-resistant steel building frames to the worst affected areas.

* Worldwide Bio Refineries said yesterday that it was also in the process of developing a light-weight, fire-proof insulation foam.

Chief executive Denis Potter said the product, which is still being tested, has a potentially large number of applications.

"This insulation foam is impossible to burn and is lightweight. That means it could be very important for use in aircraft, for example, or in fire doors at hotels," he said.

"It is still in the laboratory stage but should be fully developed in the next 12 months.