103 Anaerobic Digestion Plants Approved In Northern Ireland As AD Sector Booms

Northern Ireland’s Anaerobic Digestion (AD) sector is set to rocket within the next half decade.

A government official who deals with the processing of applications revealed there are currently 103 AD sites either in construction or already approved in the region.

Once completed, these will be capable of processing around 1.4 million tonnes of feedstocks a year.

A farmer discusses best practice in Anaerobic Digestion with ADBA staff

A farmer discusses best practice in Anaerobic Digestion with ADBA staff

The figure is more than double the total currently used for anaerobic digestion in Northern Ireland, Keith Finegan from Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Natural Environment Division explained at an AD conference in Belfast.

It could make finding conacre and silage harder for farmers, but researchers say there are also environmental concerns – digestate from the plants contains high levels of nitrogen in the form of ammonia.

Anaerobic digestion has become a popular diversification for farmers as the extra income often subsidises other parts of the enterprise.

Speaking at an anaerobic digestion conference in Belfast on Thursday, industry leaders claimed AD has the potential to be worth up to £33 million a year to the Northern Irish economy.

There are currently 42 biogas plants in the region – more per capita than in England, Scotland or Wales.

While it’s likely some of the plants which have been approved may not ever be built or commissioned, due to funding or other issues, it still signals a significant boost in the AD movement.

The market here has already grown more than 2,000% since 2011, according to the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA).

Money 1

Thinking about the future

Speaking at a major industry conference in Belfast run by ADBA, Finegan said:

“We are producing masses of nitrogen, and it’s great – it produces great food and farmers love it, it’s really important for everybody. But the nitrogen cycle isn’t stable any more – it’s now referred to as the ‘nitrogen cascade’.

“The outlets of the cascade are not going round in the process they are being released.

“Only 10% ends up in the food chain; the rest of it is released in the air, water and creates ozone – which is good up in space, but on the ground it has major impacts on the environment.

“Air pollution ammonia dropped slightly when CAP reform was brought in but has started to rise again. It’s a particular issue in Northern Ireland.”

The Nitrogen Problem

Finegan explained nitrogen levels were estimated to have risen by 4.3% between 2013 and 2015.

The entire territory of Northern Ireland is above its critical level of ammonia and nitrogen deposition, and where this has gone to court in other jurisdictions the judgements have been very clear and very straight forward – there has been a moratorium.

“We’ve got to balance sustainable growth with meeting our legal obligations – and it’s tricky – it’s a very fine line,” he said.

“We are criticised for not allowing enough new developments but on another hand we need to manage emissions.”

Air pollution in general is thought to result in 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK and costs the British economy between £15 billion and £20 billion a year.

“If we get this nitrogen problem fixed everybody wins – there’s less people going to hospital, there’s less environmental damage and there’s more profitability for the farmers – it’s just getting a way forward which works for everyone.”

It comes as ADBA is introducing an auditing scheme for its members. The benefits include reduced insurance costs and finance and will be piloted on three farms.

It’s expected the auditing programme will open more widely by the end of November.

So far, 24 new plants have been commissioned in Northern Ireland since 2015.

(Source – Agriland – Rachel Martin – 09/10/2017)

Farmer at Reaseheath

Farmer at Reaseheath

Could The Local AD Industry Be Used As A Pilot For Effective Nutrient Management?

Anaerobic Digestion (AD) could allow farmers to more effectively manage nutrient loading if digestate is correctly applied, researchers told delegates at Northern Ireland’s first AD conference.

And the region could even have potential to become an exporter of phosphorous – should farmers begin to take steps to strip nutrients out of their digestate.

Dr. Gary Lyons, AFBI (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute) spoke at the event in Belfast run by the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA).

He explained that stripping nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen would solve overloading problems but also had the potential to become an earner for the region.

The biogas industry is already worth more than £28.5 million a year to the region with digesters producing a combined 22.8MW of electricity each year.

Lyons said: “More than 50% of our intensive livestock sector has ‘high P’ soil indexes, which are continually being loaded with phosphorus and there are now environmental concerns around this.

Over 50% of the phosphorous that comes into the farm stays on the farm and this then needs to be managed in slurries, manures etc. A lot of this goes onto ‘high P’ index soils which don’t actually need the phosphorous.

Lyons explained how the phosphorous levels had dropped until 2014 when the use of bagged P fertiliser increased, but said there were opportunities in nutrient management for the region’s farmers.

AFBI has recently invested in a new nutrient management centre and AD plant in Hillsborough.

The organisation is in the process of installing two separators at the site.

Northern Ireland’s Anaerobic Digestion (AD) sector is set to rocket within the next half decade.

Northern Ireland’s Anaerobic Digestion (AD) sector is set to rocket within the next half decade.

‘Waste Is An Old Fashioned Term’

He said: “The worry is that higher phosphorous in water bodies leads to lower water quality.

“We want to address this by removing phosphorous from our slurries and digestates, using separators, therefore sending out less slurry to our land.

“The overall aim is to reduce P-loading on our farms. I think ‘waste’ is an old-fashioned term – I think we are managing our resources here.

“We have to identify cost-effective technologies for digestate management – are there technologies out there that we could employ? Can we create value chains around exporting our digestate or separated digestate fractions? This is going to be very important going forward.

“Could the local AD industry be used as a pilot for more effective nutrient management?”

Northern Ireland has become a key area of growth for the AD industry.

The North has more digesters per person than England, Scotland or Wales.

Sterling Notes

Uses For Anaerobic Digestate

Lyons said better application methods would also solve some of the problems.

“If we go down the route of mechanical separation of digestates we can separate out solid fibrous fraction and, for example, this could go back to arable land as a fertiliser,” he said.

“A lot of on-farm AD plants have excess heat which they don’t use so we could also look at drying and pelleting the material, that could be bagged and used as a soil conditioner.

“Having the correct amount of landbank available to spread diluted nutrients over is a big problem. If you have fields which are high in phosphorous, do you look at exporting that off the farm – it happens already but can we look at a more effective way of doing that?”

(Source – Agriland – Rachel Martin – 10/10/2017)

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