Wetland Biomass to Bioenergy Project Reaches Conclusion
Core Network members, The RSPB, have been working on a ground-breaking biomass to bioenergy project with the Department of Energy and Climate Change. RSPB’s Bioenergy Project Manager, Sally Mills, previously described the positive implications this could have for habitat management. We catch up with her again for an overview of the finished project and to find out what happens next.
I find it very hard to believe that we have just reached the conclusion of the DECC wetland biomass to bioenergy project. Beginning in November 2012, it has been a whirlwind, full of excitement and anticipation. I never imagined that there was so much to learn about converting under utilised conservation biomass into energy. Like on most projects there just hasn’t been enough time to answer all the questions and address all the knowledge gaps, but looking back at where we started it has been an amazing journey.
The project wouldn’t have been possible without all the land managers who have allowed their sites to be used as guinea pigs and biomass sources, and I really appreciate the patience they have shown, even when trials haven’t always gone to plan!
The project in a nutshell
Starting with 14 applications, seven of which were developed through to feasibility stage, three consortiums of participants made it through to the conclusion. Each of the three took a different approach to designing an end-to-end solution for the conversion of wetland biomass. As a result we have a portfolio of techniques that can be put into practice.
Drying for Briquettes
AB Systems made some excellent breakthroughs with the development of harvesting technologies. A Pisten Bully tracked vehicle, previously used for grooming ski slopes, was combined with a Kemper header designed for harvesting maize. AgBag storage was then used before the material was converted into briquettes. Combusting material in its loose form in a biomass boiler was also trialled. This system maximised energy production by creating a drier material.
Natural Synergies used anaerobic digestion to process the wet biomass. They were looking to address a gap in the anaerobic digestion market, and designed a bespoke medium scale system to do this. The system uses a method of cell destruction through homogenising systems and ultrasound. Wetland material is often considered to be too difficult to digest due to high levels of lignin cellulose. The system developed by Natural Synergies is about tackling and resolving such challenges.
Combining combustion and AD
The third project participants, AMW-IBERS, are based in Scotland. They have developed a system that looks to combine both combustion and anaerobic digestion, giving them the flexibility to deal with a variety of feedstock types. Their method is to separate the solid and liquid fractions of the material and then treat them in accordance with their characteristics. The liquid fraction they use for anaerobic digestion, which provides the power for the whole system. The solid fraction they dry and turn into briquettes. With the liquid fraction removed the briquettes are thought to burn cleaner; as I write this we are awaiting the results.
Although the DECC project may be reaching its conclusion, the work is not over. We are already able to apply the knowledge and lessons learnt to different habitats where similar challenges are faced. Work has already been started on heathlands through the INTERREG programme. You can read more about this on the Care Landswebsite. For the RSPB, this is just the start of utilising the technology and innovation developed as part of the DECC project. We see this as the beginning of a new approach to the way we deal with the biomass generated on our nature reserves.
If you would like to find out more about this project or speak to the practitioners involved, get in touch with the Fit for the Future Network team.