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‘Cheese gas’ to heat homes in Cumbria

The Lake District biogas AD plant.

A new green energy plant opening next month will provide gas from cheese waste to heat hundreds of homes in Cumbria.

The anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in Aspatria, which has been designed and built for Lake District Biogas, will feed bio-methane into the gas grid in rural Cumbria. The company will operate the site for 20 years taking feedstock from First Milk’s Aspatria creamery site. This comprises low-strength wash waters such as process rinses, supplemented by whey permeate (cheese production residue after protein extraction for use in energy supplements). 

The facility will produce over £3m per annum in cost savings and revenue, while supplying up to 25% of the creamery’s energy requirements. The plant will benefit from millions of pounds in government subsidies for turning whey and other residues from cheese production into biogas. 

This is the first on-site AD plant in the dairy industry in Europe to feed bio-methane to the gas grid, generated exclusively by digesting its cheese making residues. When the plant is operating at full capacity later this spring, it will treat 1,650m3 per day of process effluent and whey and generate around 5MW of thermal energy. 

It will produce 1000m3 of biogas per hour, of which over 80% will be upgraded for injection into the national grid.  At least 60% of the bio-methane will be used in the creamery for steam generation, with the balance being used by local businesses and households in Aspatria. 

Revenue benefits for Lake District Biogas include 20-year index-linked, government-backed incentive payments, with about £2m per year in support through the government’s renewable heat incentive scheme and a further £1m through the sale of gas to the wholesale market and from the feed in tariff scheme. The project will also cut the costs of energy and waste disposal at the creamery, which currently produces thousands of tonnes of cheddar every year.

The AD process, developed by UK company Clearfleau, works by taking the feedstock from the Aspatria creamery site, comprising rinse waters and whey residue and pumping this liquid into the AD plant from the creamery where bugs convert the fats and sugars in the feedstock into biogas. This is stored in a gas dome before being upgraded to bio-methane.

Gordon Archer, Chairman of Lake District Biogas says: “Completion of this £10 million project on time, given the weather conditions in Cumbria this winter, has been a major achievement for the project team and Clearfleau.  This is the largest AD plant on a dairy processing site in Europe dedicated to handling the residual materials from the cheese making process and we look forward to working with Clearfleau on future projects.”

Craig Chapman CEO of Clearfleau said: “This project, generating biogas solely from creamery residues is based on British engineering and is transforming the way in which the dairy industry manages its residues.  This shows how sustainability can be an integral part of our food supply chain.  We are looking at other dairy projects as more companies realise the energy potential of their residues.”