* Biorefinery will be one of the biggest in Europe
* Potential customers include ConocoPhillips and Total
LONDON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Vivergo Fuels said on Thursday that its biorefinery near Hull in eastern England has started bioethanol production and is expected to be fully operational in the first quarter of 2013.
The Saltend biorefinery, which will be one the biggest in Europe, will have the capacity to use 1.1 million tonnes of feed-grade wheat a year to produce 420 million litres of bioethanol, a type of alcohol that can be used as a petrol substitute.
It will be Britain's second large biorefinery and will also be able to produce 500,000 tonnes a year of animal feed.
Vivergo is a joint venture between AB Sugar, BP and DuPont.
The other big biorefinery is operated by Ensus, which is owned by U.S. private equity funds the Carlyle Group and Riverstone. The Ensus plant in northeast England has similar capacity to the Vivergo operation.
Biorefining breaks down the starch in wheat to sugars, which are then fermented into alcohol through a similar process to that used in a whisky distillery.
The fuel produced by Vivergo has two potential customers near by in the ConocoPhillips Humber refinery and Total's Lindsey Oil Refinery, but it can also be transported on tankers to major markets such as Rotterdam.