GALLERY: How food waste is turned into electricity at Fenland’s first anaerobic digestion plant

TRADITION dictates that a red ribbon is cut at grand openings, but it was a green one that was snipped to celebrate the launch of Fenland’s first anaerobic digestion plant.

Councillor Alan Melton, leader of Fenland District Council, and Neil Hunter, engineering and projects director who managed the construction of the plant, officially opened the facility in Westry, near March.

The opening marked the end of a five-year journey to design, plan and construct the plant, which has cost almost �7million to date.

Local Generation, a sister company of vegetable processors Fenmarc, has created a plant which is currently transforming 30,000 tonnes of food waste into energy. With further expansion planned, it is hoped that the plant will soon be able to handle 70,000 tonnes.

Since June, the plant has been producing 99 per cent of Fenmarc’s electricity. It also feeds power to the National Grid.

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Yesterday, the plant produced 19MW of electricity - enough to provide power for 1,300 homes.

Cllr Melton told today’s launch that he was proud to have such an environmentally friendly facility in March.

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“I was quite surprised when I heard it had been five years since we first discussed this,” he said. “I remember the excitement then and this is the result of that excitement.

“We’re very proud of the way that you have been prepared to invest in Fenland and I hope others follow your example.

“We’re also very pleased to see that you have taken on an apprentice because we’re really keen to introduce engineering skills such as this to young people in Fenland.”

COUNCILLORS, company staff and guests took a tour around the plant to gain an insight into how food waste is turned into energy.

They were shown the “reception hall” where lorries currently tip 400 tonnes of food waste a week onto the floor.

The food is scooped up by a JCB - nicknamed “Bessie” by Local Generation staff - and put into a dissolver, or as marketing manager Dawn Terry describes it “a big smoothie maker”.

Normally about 10 per cent of the waste is filtered out as packaging, with the remaining food turned into a slurry ready for the anaerobic digestion process.

The slurry is first transported into a “buffer tank” where it is stirred for six days, breaking down the proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

It passes through three pasteuriser tanks, where it is heated up and cooled down. It then enters the digestion tank - nicknamed “Darcy” by staff - where it spends 16-and-a-half days.

The raw material is slowly transformed into a methane gas, which filters into the 17metre-tall biodome and onto the engines to create electricity.

The process also creates “liquid digestate” and compost, which are used on Fenland fields to help growth.

NEIL Hunter told visitors that building work started at the plant in the freezing temperatures of January last year.

“It was a long year,” he joked.

“It was about -18C at one point. If you look closely, someone actually managed to lose a boot during the early work so there is a boot in the foundations.

“It was so cold that the ignitions were freezing on the machines. We figured out if you microwaved a potato and put it on the ignition, it kept it warm long enough for you to go to lunch.”

Mr Hunter recalled the day when staff worked until late into the night to inflate the gas bag of the towering biodome.

“Now it looks like the moon has fallen from the sky,” he said. “I think it is quite a feature on the landscape.”

Phase two of the plant’s construction will see a third engine installed, with a water treatment facility, a “liquid reception area” and an additional pasteurisation tank also added.

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