HUMAN waste is being turned into usable energy in a revolutionary multi-million pound project in Blackburn.
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In a first for East Lancashire, United Utilities is converting a by-product of waste-water treatment at its giant plant into gas.
The biogas, which is produced when wastewater sludge is broken down by the action of microbes in a process known as ‘anaerobic digestion’ or AD, will help the company generate a seventh of the power it uses in its operations.
Steve Mogford, chief executive officer of United Utilities, said: “The plant can process up to 168 mega-litres of sludge each day, which arrives from other UU sites in a 15-mile radius, and includes industrial waste from the Inbev Brewery and the local BAE Systems operations.
“The power generated helps run the adjacent sewerage treatment works.
“We already use AD technology to treat sewerage sludge and generate electricity at a number of our large treatment plants across the North West.
“Blackburn is the first in East Lancashire to use a sustainable power supply to run its heating and machinery.”
Mr Mogford demonstrated the high-tech site to the Conservative Defra Minister, Lord Henley, who holds the Government’s portfolio for waste and recycling, on Wednesday.
The plant, in Roman Road, also exports highly nutritious fertiliser, free to farmers, to use on agricultural land across East Lancashire.
Last year United Utilities generated 340GWh from sewerage gas combined heat and power and hydropower.
Mr Mogford added: “That is one seventh of our total electricity needs and it is proof that we are serious about reducing our carbon footprint and reducing the amount of power we import from the national grid.”
* Human waste, animal waste and even food scraps can be turned into biogas – a fuel that can be used for generating electricity.
* Digesting equipment uses bacteria to break down waste into sludge, much like a septic tank.
* In the process called anaerobic digestion, the bacteria emit gases, mostly methane. But instead of being vented into the air, they are piped into a storage canister.
* The biogas is then further cleaned up before being fed into the gas grid.