Cumbrian investment is boost for biogas sector

A £4.5m biogas plant using a range of farm-based feedstocks has started generating power in Cumbria.

The anaerobic digestion system at Dryholme Farm, Silloth, is part of Farmgen’s £30m energy plan for the UK and will generate enough electricity to provide continuous power for up to 2,200 homes.

It has been designed to run primarily on grass silage and slurry, plus additional waste vegetable material, but some 200 potential feedstocks have been approved for use, including maize silage.

Approximately 60-70t a day of locally-produced feedstock will be needed, giving an annual requirement of 25,000t a year. This will require around 486ha (1,200 acres) dedicated to the necessary cropping. Approximately £10-30/t is paid for feedstock on average depending on the type.

The digestate will be returned to farmland as fertiliser, although there are plans to dry and pellet the material for use in biomass boilers. Approximately 5-6% of the electricity produced will be used on site, with the remainder exported to the national grid. The plant will receive a Feed-in Tariff worth £94/MWh which will be index linked to RPI. A five-year return on investment is expected.

Ed Cattigan, Farmgen’s commercial director, described the switch-on as a “landmark day” for anaerobic digestion and for the farming community in Cumbria. “Dryholme has already generated a lot of interest from farmers who can see the benefits and the opportunities to create a sustainable and stronger future for themselves by switching to energy farming.

“Renewables and other sources of green energy will play a critical role in providing the country’s power supplies over the next decade and we believe farm-based AD plants have an important part to play in that transformation.”

Farmgen received a £350,000 grant to help connect the Silloth plant to the national grid from the Nuclear Management Partners consortium through Britain’s Energy Coast – a £2bn package of regeneration projects.

Brian Wilson, chairman of Britain’s Energy Coast, said the funding it had allocated to the project could be part of the largest anaerobic digestion expansion programme in the UK.

“We welcome Farmgen’s commitment to west Cumbria – a county we see as a national hub for low carbon and renewable energy. This is a great success story for the region, as well as nationally. Our support for Farmgen also reinforces the potential to develop energy resources in west Cumbria that are not confined to one technology and we will continue to support the innovative development of renewable generation.”

Farmgen says Cumbria is playing a key role in its expansion programme. The company has received planning permission to build a second Cumbrian AD plant at High Head Castle Farm in Ivegill and has applied for permission for another AD plant at Murray House Farm in Cumwhinton. Further development plans are in the pipeline.

The company’s inaugural AD plant at Warton, near Preston, Lancashire, started generating 800kW of electricity – enough to supply more than 1,000 homes – in May. It believes the UK can sustain at least 1,000 similar plants. There are already 5,000 AD plants operating in Germany.