The £1.2million anaerobic digestion plant is the first in the region to be installed on a working farm and is part of a major drive by Newcastle University to explore new ways in which agriculture can become more sustainable.
Officially launched this week, the system is already producing heat from the pig slurry produced on Cockle Park Farm – located between Hebron and Tritlington – and the next step will be to feed this directly back to the animals to keep them warm.
Project lead Dr Paul Bilsborrow, based in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said the aim was to work with North East farmers, land managers and other related businesses to find new ways of producing renewable energy from waste.
“Anaerobic digestion offers huge potential in terms of utilising the methane from animal waste and converting it into renewable energy, which can be used to heat and power on-farm buildings,” he said.
“The plant at Cockle Park provides us with a unique opportunity to demonstrate best practice for integrating this technology within a working mixed farm – starting with our pigs.
“It is also an important step towards the creation of a ‘Sustainable Farm’, focused on the production and use of renewable energy.
“By working together with the agricultural industry we hope to develop new ways of making anaerobic digestion a viable process for uptake by farms across the UK.”
The facility is a key part of the university’s new Living Lab concept, which places research into sustainability at the heart of the region – encouraging forward-thinking and innovative approaches to sustainable challenges and providing real solutions both now and in the future.
Anaerobic digestion is a process by which micro-organisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen to produce methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas that is suitable for energy production.
Rapidly becoming an important source of renewable energy, there are now more than 50 fully commissioned anaerobic digestion plants across the country, with a similar number currently in the planning process.
The project was jointly funded by the university and One North East through its Rural Development Programme for England.