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Anaerobic digestion experts on hand to help farmers

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Farmers are being urged to attend workshops to hear from experts in anaerobic digestion (AD) following the completion of a state-of-the-art plant at Cockle Park Farm near Morpeth.

The anaerobic digester, which converts manure from pigs and cattle into green energy, has now been completed at the Northumberland farm by Newcastle University and will form part of the new Centre for Renewable Energy from Land (CREEL).

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The project places the North East at the forefront of technology, providing an opportunity for farmers to seek advice, support and guidance to make informed decisions on managing waste, renewable energy and diversification.

The project went ahead after One North East approved funding of nearly 860,000 through its Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) in a jointly funded scheme with Newcastle University.

The aim of the project is to show how waste from pig, dairy and beef units can be used to produce heat, electricity and organic fertilizer with the central feature being workshops for farmers, the rural community and food companies to allow experts to transfer their knowledge applied on a farm scale.

The day-long workshops consist of presentations on AD technology, issues relating to the construction of an AD plant including planning and permits, together with information on the use of the organic fertiliser and biogas.  Workshops are rounded off with a tour of the Cockle Park plant.
Adrian Sherwood, RDPE Manager at One North East, said: Anaerobic digestion offers considerable potential for farms and rural businesses in the production of energy as well as for the management of animal manures and other waste.

However the number of facilities on farms in the UK is limited because the technology is relatively new.  As a result there are opportunities for UK farmers to benefit from this technology, which has now been completed in the North East for the first time.

The up-take of such technologies by a small proportion of land based businesses would make a valuable contribution towards renewable energy targets in the UK, so it is very exciting that the region is at the forefront of this technology.

Anaerobic digestion is a process by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material to produce a methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas which is suitable for energy production.  The residue can be used as a soil conditioner and offers considerable potential for farmers to reduce their fertilizer inputs.

The energy at Cockle Park is being used to heat the AD tanks to maintain the required operating temperature and will also be used to heat the pig units.  The University is also planning to install a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit which will generate electricity to export back to the grid.

Project lead Dr Paul Bilsborrow, based in the universitys school of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development said: The workshops which have taken place so far have been extremely interesting, attracting a vast range of delegates from the farming community along with professionals involved in the AD development process.  Feedback has indicated how valuable and informative these workshops have been.

A considerable amount of interest has also been expressed in our free feasibility service where we can help farmers with their calculations to establish the viability of an AD plant on their farm.

AD is the emerging renewable technology which creates biogas and organic fertiliser from farm slurry and food waste and is growing in popularity due to the Governments financial incentives with feed in tariffs, renewable obligation certificates and the soon to be introduced renewable heat incentive.

It is forecast that around 200 land based businesses and 54 food industry businesses will take part in training as a result of the project, with a further 72 other businesses and public sector organisations receiving training and information to support the growth of AD.

The next workshop is taking place on February 17 with three dates also available in March.  For more information about the workshops, please contact Jenny Conn at jenny.conn@newcastle.ac.uk or telephone 01670 791 958.  Bespoke full day workshops for parties of 15 to 25 and shorter workshops or visits for smaller parties are also available.

The Rural Development Programme for England 2007-2013 is jointly funded by Defra and the European Union, with the aim of delivering targeted support to rural businesses and communities. It is managed in North East England by One North East, Natural England and the Forestry Commission.

The RDPE investment being managed by One North East combines larger projects to help many businesses in different sectors of the rural economy – including bioenergy and land-based skills, and projects adding value to agricultural and forestry products – with smaller investments to help individual businesses to start-up, grow or diversify, and support to develop more sustainable rural communities.

For further information on the full package of support, visit www.businesslink.gov.uk/northeast.or call Tel: 0845 600 9006.
For more information on RDPE in North East England, visit: www.rdpenortheast.co.uk

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