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Pigs Perfect the Art of Greener Living

by 5m Editor
22 July 2011, at 9:37am

UK - Pigs in Northumberland will soon be heating their own home thanks to a state-of-the-art anaerobic digester which converts their waste into green energy.

The £1.2m anaerobic digestion facility (75kW average electrical output) is the first in the region to be installed on a working farm and is part of a major drive by Newcastle University to explore new ways in which agriculture can become more sustainable.

Officially launched yesterday, the system is already producing heat from the animal dung produced on Cockle Park Farm. The next step will be to use this heat to keep the pigs warm and to generate electricity to power the milking parlour.

Project lead Dr Paul Bilsborrow, based in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said the aim was to work with North East farmers, land managers and other related businesses to find new ways of producing renewable energy from waste.

"Anaerobic digestion offers huge potential in terms of utilizing the methane from animal waste and converting it into renewable energy which can be used to heat and power on-farm buildings," he explained.

"The plant at Cockle Park provides us with a unique opportunity to demonstrate best practice for integrating this technology within a working mixed farm. It is also an important step towards the creation of a ‘Sustainable Farm’, focused on the production and use of renewable energy.

"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."

The Anaerobic Digestion plant is a key part of the University’s new Living Lab concept which places research into sustainability at the heart of the region, encouraging forward-thinking and innovative approaches to sustainable challenges and providing real solutions both now and in the future.

Anaerobic digestion is a process by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen to produce methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas which is suitable for energy production.

Rapidly becoming an important source of renewable energy, there are now over 50 fully commissioned Anaerobic Digestion plants across the country with a similar number currently in the planning process.

The project was jointly funded by the University and One North East through its Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE).

In June of this year the Government released its Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan for England which showed a clear commitment to increasing energy from waste via the technology.

Recycling Minister Lord Henley said, "Creating and using clean and green energy from waste on working farms saves money for farmers and is good for the environment. Developing these types of innovative and practical solutions is key to moving us along the path to a zero-waste economy."

Dr Bilsborrow, a senior lecturer in Crop Production and Bioenergy at Newcastle University, explained: "A significant number of the actions in the plan are aimed at improving the dissemination of information that is already available.

"The Cockle Park Farm facility is making a significant contribution towards dissemination of this information by promoting the benefits of this technology within the rural community."