Sunday, May 10, 2009

Biogas Plant Plan - Cumbrian Farmers to Generate Own Energy

Cumbrian farmers to generate own energy through biogas plan

Farmers in Cumbria are teaming up to develop anaerobic digestion facilities to generate their own renewable energy from agricultural waste.

Community Renewable Energy North West (CoRE NW), a group based in Workington, plans to set up a number of co-operatives to develop the plants, which will produce electricity and heat from farmers' manure and silage.

The first plant is to be developed at Middle Farm in Silloth, in the north west of the county, and could secure planning permission next spring. A feasibility study is currently under way, with 10 farmers interested in getting involved.

Hopes are that the £3.5 million digester could be commissioned by the end of 2010, producing just under 1MW of power - around seven million kWh units a year, or enough electricity to supply about 2,000 homes.

Plans are to use heat produced by the facility in the farm's four large chicken sheds, as well as to the next-door cement block factory.

Social enterprise NRG NorthEast Renewables Group is to supply and install the digester, subject to planning permission, with technology expected to be supplied by German biogas company Biogas Hochreiter.

The project will see local farmers owning the new anaerobic digester along with CoRE NW itself, while NRG will be a minor stakeholder.

Core NW has set up an energy supply company (ESCo) to manage energy sales, with expectations that the facility could bring in £1.2 million a year, achieving payback in around six years. Profits from the project - around £100,000 a year - will go towards setting up three more anaerobic digestion plants in the area, as well as supporting other community renewable energy projects.

Research behind the project has suggested that farmers involved in an anaerobic digestion scheme could see an annual income of £20,000, along with up to £16,300 for supplying materials and dividends averaging £10,000 a year.

Anaerobic digestion involves bacterial feeding on organic material in large tanks, producing a methane-rich biogas that can be used to generate energy, as well as a residue that can be used as a fertiliser.

It is seen as a particularly attractive technology for north west Cumbria, since the region has a high density of dairy farms, which produce a considerable amount of manure and slurry, which is difficult to deal with under new legal controls.

CoRE NW said digestion plants could effectively double the profitability of dairy farmers.

Mike Pearson, who owns the farm where the first digester is being proposed, said: "We think this a great way forward for Cumbrian farmers. As well as increasing our income, it also means we reduce our usage of chemicals and produce renewable energy."

Initial work on the Middle Farm project was funded by West Cumbria social enterprise project The Hub, which is run by Lancashire-based industrial and provident society Co-operative and Mutual Solutions.

Feedstock for the plant is likely to inclure 20,000 tonnes of slurry, 10,000 tonnes of silage from currently unproductive land and 3,000 tonnes of chicken manure. Some 10,000 tonnes of food waste from Lakeland Creameries and other local sources could also be used in the plant.

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