Building an anaerobic digestion plant in partnership
By 2005, South Shropshire District Council had worked for many years on small-scale anaerobic digestion projects. So when it decided to boost economic development, building a bio-digester seemed the obvious answer. This case study looks at how the council worked in partnership to build an anaerobic digestion plant.
South Shropshire District Council (which is now incorporated in the unitary Shropshire Council) worked with energy company Greenfinch - now Biogen Greenfinch - to build an anaerobic digestion plant to process kitchen and garden waste.
Building work started in June 2005 and the plant started processing waste in March 2006.
Greenfinch provided technology worth £160,000. South Shropshire provided the site on Ludlow Business Park and paid for the waste collection costs. Local authority involvement also meant that external grant funding was found. About £1.4 million came from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, including £98,000 for a visitor centre. Grant funding of £1,473 came from Advantage West Midlands.
South Shropshire is a rural area and most jobs are in agriculture or service industries and are low paid. Building the anaerobic digester was seen as an economic catalyst, both to create local jobs and safeguard some of those in the local building trade.
Anticipating opposition to the project, the council consulted extensively with the local community and organisations before submitting the planning application. A handful of local objections were raised about:
- loss of view
- parking issues
- whether gas generated at the plant would be hazardous
But, due to the extensive consultation, the council managed to get letters of support from bodies like the Council for Protection of Rural England, Ramblers' Association and Agenda 21.
At the time South Shropshire was a district council submitting a planning application to the county. The council used external consultants, who were experienced in waste planning to help with the application and work on the environmental impact assessment.
It is essential to understand the nature of the waste that you're collecting. You have to match the technology to the type of waste and the quantities you have. Ask yourself:
- where is your waste coming from? So where does your plant need to be?
- what's the scale required?
- what are you trying to achieve from the project?
Councillor Susan McCormack was the lead member for the Environment and the Economy on South Shropshire District Council at the time. She says:
"The Biodigester did not cope with garden waste and the 'rubbish' that ratepayers threw into their green bins - especially plastic bags, quantities of soil and stones, and garden items such as broken forks. Therefore a decision had to be taken to collect food waste separately, from only part of South Shropshire, which increased the cost and meant that food-only waste had to be brought in from a distance.
"This meant that the Biodigester capacity was poorly related to actual throughput. These factors made the whole process expensive."
This change also led to some odour issues. Odour can be a problem:
- when the waste is delivered to the plant
- when the digestate is being removed from the plant
- if there is a leak.
If you've got the right equipment and management controls it is not an issue. The odour abatement equipment was upgraded and there are very few odour complaints now.
Councillor Gwilym Butler says:
"One of the key areas is that the research and development is continually ongoing. It is also in our experience very important to bring the community with you in respect of all the planning issues etc, and to keep them fully aware of all the whys and wherefores of what you're actually doing."
The plant produces about 700MWh of surplus electricity each year that goes back into the National Grid.
Because the electricity is from a renewable source, the council gets renewables obligation certificates (ROCs). More recent plants qualify for double ROCs.
The anaerobic digestion plant produces agricultural fertiliser for crops. The council are confident that this will meet the new publically available standard (PAS) 1.10. This will make it easier to find markets for the agricultural fertiliser which will then bring in a return.
Two full-time equivalent jobs have been created from the operation of the plant. Greenfinch has been able to grow as a company and has taken on more employees.
Because this plant was the first of its type in the UK it attracted a lot of positive media interest which has probably benefitted the town of Ludlow and the wider area.
Local resident Roger Bartlett says:
"The digester pilot and weekly food-waste collection were in place when we came to Ludlow in 2008. We have a very small garden with limited capacity for composting. We were pleased to have a food-waste system that could take all types of food - bones, meat and so on as well as compostables - and which was processing it locally to produce green usable energy."
Waste Policy and Strategy Officer, Shropshire Council
Telephone: 01743 255936
1 May 2012