British dairy farmers could have the solution to heating more than a quarter of homes
Calls for UK Government to help farmers realise the full potential of food and farming in reinforcing the nation’s energy security as Arla puts biogas-fuelled trucks on the road
Amid concern about the cost of energy and preparations for potential shortages of power in the coming months, farmers from the UK’s biggest dairy cooperative, Arla, has issued a call to action for the Government to tap into a major unused source of energy from farms and the wider food supply chain.
Figures* show that, with support, nearly 91 million tonnes of manure and slurry and 10 million tonnes of food waste could be turned into 8bn cubic metres of biomethane, enough to heat 6.4 million homes or run around 3.8 million of the UK’s buses and heavy goods vehicles.
However, much more investment would be needed in the anaerobic digestion system to produce this sustainable gas at scale. At the moment Britain is currently only making the most out of a quarter of the 170 million tonnes of organic waste produced in this country each year*.
On the back of its recent ‘poo power’ trials in 2020, which saw Arla turn cow poo from 500 cows into 27,000 litres of biofuel for two trucks, Arla has now invested in permanent moves to tap into this energy source. The dairy cooperative has started to use slurry along with food that would otherwise go to waste from its distribution site in Hatfield to power seven trucks. And the digestate by-product of the anaerobic digestion process is a natural fertiliser that will be used on farms and which is more stable and less likely to impact on air or water quality.
However, Arla would like to take this much further. With 2,100 dairy farmers in the UK, the cooperative’s farmers’ cows produce millions tonnes of slurry (poo) each year and when coupled with food that would otherwise have gone to waste Arla alone has the potential to turn tonnes of waste into valuable, reliable and sustainable fuel. Increasing the number of vehicles running on cow poo and food waste products will result in a reduction in vehicle emissions of 80% and using the digestate coming out of the AD process instead of fertiliser on crops reduces on-farm emissions by a further 7%**.
James Pirie, vice president of UK logistics for Arla explains “At a time when energy security is a major concern for the Government, businesses, and households across the UK, we’re clear about the opportunity presented by waste from farming and the wider food industry. We’ve shown that poo power is a viable and reliable source of power, so we’re calling for the Government to support British farmers and the waste and energy sectors with their plans for investment in infrastructure.”
Arla farmer, Ian Barker, adds “Since signing up for the original poo power trial I’ve been an advocate of using our farms’ natural resources to create energy. It’s good to be in a position to prove that nothing need go to waste when it comes to a more sustainable approach to farming and food production, and I’m pleased to be part of this next step to a greener future. I’m hopeful that with more support for farmers, poo power will become a more regular feature of a more resilient, affordable energy supply.”
To enable British farmers to access AD plants and tap into the full potential of poo power (and other organic waste), Arla has three key asks of politicians:
- Work with industry and local communities to develop a holistic and nationwide strategy for anaerobic digestion which:
- Supports its use on a centralised, community-based, and on-farm level; and
- Promotes the use of slurry and manure as a renewable energy source
- Ensure that the new ELMS regime provides financial support for the use of digestate as a biofertilizer, recognising that it is safe and more environmentally friendly; this backing would drive the adoption of AD at an on-farm level
- Extend the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, which supports the use of biogases in transport, beyond 2032.
James Pirie from Arla adds, “With the prospect of an unsettled imported energy supply and costs rising significantly for farmers, businesses and families, it would be an incredible waste for the Government not to support this opportunity and invest in a robust, more environmentally-friendly approach to home-grown energy.”
To find out more about how Arla’s farmers are turning cow poo into power, visit www.arlafoods.co.uk/food-for-thought/renewable-energy/
*Biomethane: The pathway to 2030, ADBA
** Arla Climate Check report 2021
For reference, UK uses 1,994 TWh of energy total per annum, source https://ourworldindata.org/energy/country/united-kingdom#how-much-energy-does-the-country-consume-each-year – part of University of Oxford
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