Turning waste into profit….and doing a bit of conservation while they’re at it.

Say goodbye to nuclear....Minsmere nature reserve overlooks Sizewell

Say goodbye to nuclear….Minsmere nature reserve overlooks Sizewell nuclear waste site

RSPB are currently exploring ways in which they can effectively manage their wetlands, using the cut reeds and rushes to turn into bioenergy.

Various projects, based on nature reserves in Suffolk, Somerset and Inverness are being funded by DECC who are interested in exploring innovative ways of turning waste into bioenergy. With bioenergy estimated to meet upwards of 10% of the UK’s energy demands by 2050 and the only renewable energy source that can be used across all three energy sectors (transport, heat and electricity), exploring ways to scale-up anaerobic digestion is a no-brainer.

This shows both the potential and complexity of producing bioenergy

This DECC diagram shows the potential and complexities of bioenergy production

Sally Mills from RSPB has been leading on the projects and last week I went to Minsmere nature reserve in Suffolk to see one of the techniques being piloted in partnership with AB Systems.

Harvesting wetland rushes and putting them straight into Ag Bags, they are stored and dried using air pipes and solar power. Once dried, rushes with less than 20% water content will go straight to the briquetter to be turned into biomass (anything with more than 20% moisture content will produce a ‘steam explosion’ in the biomass – something which David Wynne from AB Systems learnt the hard way), anything more than 20% moisture will go to the anaerobic digester.

Once cut, the rushes are stored straight into AB Systems' Ag Bags

Once cut, the rushes are stored straight into AB Systems’ Ag Bags

The project still has a year to go, but already David and Sally were able to share some invaluable lessons; consulting local landowners and communities from the beginning of the project is essential, land-owners need to work with contractors to allow them multiple site access and more horse power of the equipment will mean less traction and impact on the wetlands.

And finally, the briquetter. As you can see the lorry is pretty big, making site access something to consider in advance....another lesson learnt the hard way for Sally Mills and David Wynne.

And the final stage, the briquetter. As you can see the lorry is pretty big, making site access something to consider in advance….another lesson learnt the hard way for Sally Mills and David Wynne.

The team have also been adapting equipment in order to make it usable on the wetlands – and the trusty PistenBully (originally meant for ski slopes) has been continuously hacked and adapted as new challenges in the project present themselves – sinking for instance!

The (heavily adapted!) PistenBully in action

The (heavily adapted!) PistenBully in action, a light machine is essential to prevent the Bully sinking into the wetlands

A key measure of success will be the life-cycle analysis (LCA). So far, the stats are promising – an estimated 78% GHG savings, or put another way only 10% of the energy created is produced in the whole process.

These projects show great potential, not just because of the encouraging LCA stats, but the satisfying ability to turn waste into energy and tick the box of land management too.

As members of Fit for the Future Network, I’ll be sharing RSPB’s projects with you. You can also read Sally’s blogs.

There’s still time to sign up for the other demonstrations days – apply for their events in Somerset and Inverness and see it for yourself.

Read about ‘Blue Conrad’ a similar AD experiment on Hafod y Llan farm which Keith and Paul have been blogging about.

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