The £3m plant was awarded the title of Renewable Electricity Facility of the Year at the Renewable Energy Infrastructure Awards.
BiogenGreenfinch CEO, Richard Barker, said: “This is very rewarding for all the partners who have been involved in the project.
“We are absolutely delighted that Harper Adams has been recognised for the work they are doing to produce renewable energy by making good use of agricultural and food waste. Of course, BioGreenfinch is thrilled to be part of this successful partnership.”
He added: “This plant further confirms our credentials as the leading integrated designer, builder and operator of food waste AD plants in the UK.”
The anaerobic digestion plant opened on campus in summer 2011. It was commissioned, designed and built by BiogenGreenfinch, who worked closely with E.ON and Adonis Construction.
The plant processes slurry from commercial food waste and the university’s own dairy herd. This slurry is then used to produce renewable electricity for both the campus and the national grid, generating 24,000 tonnes of green energy a year.
The two-storey steel framed building houses the front end of the plant, with five process tanks including a 14m x 14m digester tank located on specially reinforced external foundations to the rear. The process tank area is contained within a specially constructed 2m high bund and the biogas produced fuels a Jenbacher CHP unit which produces 11MWh/day of electricity.
The building features external elevations in metal cladding and has incorporated aluminum framed windows. It has a special hard standing area for the digester tanks, a large turning area for deliveries and a weighbridge. Internally, the building houses a visitor centre and a reception hall where food waste is delivered.
In addition, there is a first floor viewing gallery where visitors can see the award-winning anaerobic digestion process in action. Its dual role as a demonstration facility provides farmers and other businesses with an example of how they can use their existing byproducts to generate power in addition to an extra source of income.
The anaerobic digester is a highly effective waste management system that works its magic as soon as food is fed into the plant. The facility helps businesses in the food industry – producers, processors, distributors, retailers, caterers and hoteliers – by cutting costs and reusing resources in order to meet their environmental objectives.
Harper Adams Estates and Facilities Manager, Paul Moran, said: “Anaerobic digestion (AD) is fully supported by Defra as an excellent method of generating renewable energy in rural areas.
“This waste-to-energy project met many of the criteria set out in the Government’s 2007 Energy White Paper and has greatly benefited both Harper Adams and the wider community.
“Instead of being left to degrade in landfill or elsewhere, leaking methane into the atmosphere, food and farm waste is now digested in the AD unit and recycled into three useful by-products.”
The first of the by-products is biogas, which fuels a unit that produces both heat and power. When combined with the output from the biomass unit and photovoltaic (solar power) array, it makes the northern half of the campus entirely self-sufficient for heat and power. This scheme will protect the facility from fluctuating energy prices for at least a decade.
The other byproducts of the process are a liquid fertiliser and compost, which are used for the college’s farm and ground operations. This has in turn lowered the reliance on manufactured fertilisers.
Paul Moran added: “Our calculations show that the project has created ongoing carbon saving of 11,229 tonnes a year – which is 3.4 times the current emissions from campus buildings. This means that Harper Adams has become more than three times carbon neutral.”
Don Leiper, Managing Director of E.ON’s Energy Services business, said: “The way we create and use energy is changing and projects like this have helped us develop new, sustainable energy solutions for the future.
“Smaller, community scale, renewable energy projects have two benefits; they provide a secure, reliable and low carbon energy supply whilst also making use of a valuable waste resource that would otherwise be sent to landfill.”
Food waste is a serious problem in the UK: approximately 18 million tonnes is produced every year, of which around 6 million tonnes has to be collected by local authorities.
Treating food waste in an anaerobic digester is cost competitive with landfill and other alternatives and is more environmentally sustainable. The method is recognised by the UK government, Defra, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, Friends of the Earth and the National Farmers Union.
BiogenGreenfinch is a national company with offices in Bedfordshire and Shropshire, and specialises in designing, building, owning and operating commercial-scale anaerobic digestion plants for processing food waste.
Company CEO, Richard Barker, said: “BiogenGreenfinch is unique. It is the only specialist British anaerobic digestion company that can design, build and operate large-scale anaerobic digestion plants with a proven track record.
“Disposing of food waste to landfill is no longer acceptable because of the damage it does to the environment and its contribution to climate change through methane and other gases escaping into the atmosphere. Increasingly it is prohibited by regulations and made expensive through the imposition of special landfill taxes.”
He added: “We took what everyone else threw away – waste from the UK food chain – and in a low carbon process, we recycled waste food in our anaerobic digestion plants to make renewable energy. All that remained was a liquid, rich in nutrients, which we returned to the land as a biofertiliser to grow crops, replacing fossil fuel derived fertilisers.
“Our digesters are filled with food waste from homes, shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels, offices and factories producing and processing our food.
“Nothing is wasted: it is the truly green alternative to landfill. Our AD plants are helping to make landfill history. No other alternative can match the environmental credentials of anaerobic digestion.”
Adonis Construction, one of the companies behind the plant’s development, is known for its ability to ensure that every project it is involved in offers exemplary quality. The company is experienced in the nuances of their specialist sectors and has worked on projects for a wide range of private and public organisations. Even when conditions are against them, the company perseveres until the task is complete.
John Greaves of BiogenGreenfinch said: “The contractors did very well, despite challenging weather, and everyone still tried to keep things moving when temperatures failed to exceed minus 10 degrees for 11 days during the works.
“In fact, based upon their performance, we have since discussed future plant builds with them.”
Since its foundation in 1901, Harper Adams has had a long and proud tradition of working closely with the rural sector providing the best possible facilities for its learning, teaching and research activities. It does this by addressing the issues that matter in the rural sector so that the communities and businesses in the field flourish. The college university has strong industry links that add business relevance to the college’s role in higher education and encourage lifelong learning.
In order to begin the project, Harper Adams received £10 million in funding from the Revolving Green Fund. This was set aside by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Salix Finance for the express purpose of helping ‘transformational’ projects.
In order to maintain its vision, Harper Adams participates in activities that are closely related to the needs of the rural economies and industries reliant upon those economies. This relates to a specific commitment to farming for sustainable environments and re-establishing connections between food producers and consumers.
The college develops the abilities of both national and international students from a wide range of backgrounds with associated course and pedagogic developments, providing a strong learning environment and promoting a student culture that enhances employability and personal development.
Despite its success at the Renewable Energy Infrastructure Awards, the processes involved in the plant are continually being improved by incorporating in-house recommendations and by taking advice on how to improve this winning formula. Most importantly, BiogenGreenfinch listens to comments received through customer feedback, which means that no matter how many trophies are on its shelves, it continues to work towards a better future for students and the local community.