The Global View

Manure to Newcastle: £1.85M waste-to-energy project gets OK

PigsOnce best known for a certain type of fossil fuel, Newcastle is now moving in a new — if equally “earthy” — direction: energy from farm waste.

Cockle Park Farm, a 262-hectare farm owned by Newcastle University, is in the process of developing a £1.85-million, state-of-the-art anaerobic digester that will convert manure from pigs and cattle into green energy. Aimed at helping farms become more sustainable, the project will work with North East farmers, land managers and other related businesses to find new ways of producing renewable energy from waste.

The effort recently received the go-ahead, thanks to an £860,000 cash injection from regional development agency One North East.

“Anaerobic digestion offers huge potential in terms of utilising the methane from animal waste and converting it into renewable energy which will be used to heat and power buildings on farm,” said project lead Paul Bilsborrow of the university’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. “By working together with the agricultural industry we hope to develop new ways of making anaerobic digestion a viable process for uptake by farms across the UK.”

Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen to produce a methane and carbon dioxide-rich biogas that’s suitable for energy production. In addition, the process leaves behind solids that can be used as a soil conditioner and a nutrient source, which could help farmers reduce their fertiliser budgets.

“Anaerobic digestion offers considerable potential for farms and rural businesses in the production of energy and the management of animal manures and other waste streams,” said Kirsten Young, One North East’s Rural Development Programme for England senior specialist. “However the number of facilities on farms in the UK is limited as the technology has predominantly been used for the management of animal manures rather than energy production. It is an area that is waiting to be exploited bearing in mind that the UK has 150,000 full-time and 200,000 part-time farms.”

Young added, “The up-take of such technologies by a small proportion of these businesses would lead to a significant contribution of renewable energy to the UK market so it is very exciting that the region is at the forefront of this project.”