The last two months have been busy for the 3 consortiums of applicants who were successful getting through to Phase 2 of the competition. With the short timescales they are working to there is no time to waste. They need to ensure that they are in a position to purchase and adapt specialist machinery to enable them to harvest biomass in the designated seasons, gather the necessary information needed for life cycle analysis whilst developing their conversion technologies to ensure they are able to deliver the end to end process with the production of energy on completion – all within 10 months.
To date, in the south and in the east, progress is going well and over 500 tonnes of rush dominatedbiomass off approximately 60 hectares has been harvested from Catcott Lows (Somerset Wildlife Trust) and Shapwick Heath (Natural England) on the Somerset Levels and Moors, together with a further 20 hectares of a much lighter rush crop off Dingle Marshes (Suffolk Wildlife Trust & RSPB) on the Suffolk Coast. This material is now in storage ready for processing.
Depending on the conversion technology planned, this biomass has either been stored as silage for Natural Synergies Ltd, to be used for anaerobic digestion or dried and stored in AgBags for briquette making by AB Systems (UK) Ltd. In Somerset for both operations we have been working with a local farmer and using his facilities, which satisfy the requirements for the EA and local planning authority and provide secure storage outside of designated areas.
Unavoidable delays in the arrival of the specialist harvesting machinery could have been most problematic and caused time delays that we would have struggled to work with, however we have been extremely fortunate in that we have had such a dry season.
Good progress is also being made in the north of the country as planning permission to undertake the trials is now waiting for an October decision from the National Park Authority. As the operation and conversion is to take place in the old quarry on Insh Marshes Nature Reserve, although not designated land, permission from the Park and SEPA are required. AMW-IBERS and the Insh RSPB team have been working hard to make this application successful, and SEPA have already confirmed that they have no objections and support the trials.
All the applicants have been working with North Energy Associates Ltd to ensure that they record all the necessary information that will be needed to produce a full life cycle analysis. This work will assess the amount of energy and carbon being used compared to that being produced and saved. It will also assess and monitor the levels of emissions that have been created during and emitted on actual delivery of energy. The latter is one of the unanswered questions particularly in relation to the combustion of wetland biomass, which in the past has been reported to be prohibitive, so it will be excellent to work with boiler manufacturers to look at new combustion techniques and obtain up to date results.