Friday, April 20, 2012

Harper Adams Anaerobic Digester – Leading the Way in Sustainable Energy

Image: Harper Adams College
Harper Adams University College in Shropshire is leading the way in creating and utilising sustainable energy through a £3 million plus renewable power system.

The rural focused college which has been five times winner of the Sunday Times University Guide 'University College of the Year' was one of three higher education institutions in England that are sharing a £10 million fund set aside for 'transformational projects under the Higher Education Funding Council for England's Revolving Green Fund.

The institution has put this towards an Anaerobic Digester plant which was constructed in 2011 and began generating power and heat towards the end of April the same year.

Recycling landfill bound waste

The plant uses 12,000 tonnes of food waste which would otherwise end up at landfill sites and 11,000 tonnes of dairy and pig slurry from farms. When opened it was anticipated that the digester would offset campus carbon emissions more than three times over. The digester produces renewable electricity and provides the campus with a highly effective waste management system.

The system also reduces the University College's reliance on manufactured fertilisers as the waste that is digested in it is recycled into liquid fertiliser and compost which can then be used for the farm and grounds operations.

Award winning

The Harper Adams has won accolades for this system at the Times Higher Education Awards where they won the Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development Award at the end of 2011. The prestigious event at London's Grosvenor Hotel was compered by Rob Brydon and the award was in recognition of all the hard work that went into making the anaerobic digester a success.

One of the judges Patrick Finch who is bursar and director of estates at the University of Bristol said of the system: “Harper Adams has produced a ground breaking project. While this has been trialled before, the judges felt that the work on developing a system that would produce a step change in carbon management at the college had the potential for wider application in the higher education community and in the farming sector. Energy and carbon savings, reduction in waste to landfill and release of farmland for growing food crops together present a compelling case.”

First year success

Twelve months on since the system first started producing renewable energy the college is now engaging with local schools to make further developments. Leftover food from school dinners from four county schools will be recycled at the plant and turned into power and energy at the college. This venture is part of a pilot scheme which if successful then waste from all schools in the Shropshire area could be sent to the plant.

The schools in the pilot are using specialist waste contractor Cartwrights. The local contractor has also benefited from external funding in the form of the Waste & Resources Action Programme to help them convert an existing bin lorry into one that would be suitable to carry food waste safely.

James Wood who is the college's energy plant manager said: “The anaerobic digester has now been operational for a year, and we are all delighted to be gaining interest and support from the local community. We really hope that the schools partnership is a success and can be rolled out across the county.”

Community spirit

The Harper Adams project is a fabulous example of the community all pulling together to produce a system that benefits the county. The college also uses an eco vehicle around the plant which carries the slogan “A cleaner solution without the pollution”. The slogan was chosen after the college ran a staff competition to come up with a catchy slogan for the vehicle which is to be used around campus collecting recycling and other jobs.

The college saw the competition of really getting the staff behind the plant project and getting them interested and involved in the sustainability of it. The campus uses electric vehicles around campus as another way of the college being eco friendly.

The winner of the competition was rewarded with an energy monitor worth £40 and the honour of having their slogan added to the eco vehicle and therefore being part of campus history.

In order to find out about the fantastic ways in which Harper Adams University College are helping the environment through all their sustainable activities visit

Izzy Harrington is a freelance writer from England who writes technology articles covering everything from Tempur-Pedic comparison to future technologies.

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