Thousands of chickens will contribute their droppings to a biogas power station in Cirencester. Photograph: Evan Kafka/Getty Images/Evan Kafka
Cherie Blair may have been moved to buy a “beware of the hen poo” sign on eBay, but one town in Gloucestershire is embracing chicken manure as a fuel for lighting its homes.
Thousands of chickens will next month be contributing their droppings to a biogas power station that will provide enough electricity to light 350 homes. The plant in Cirencester will convert agricultural and animal waste from local farms into heat and electricity. And the project will also help local farmers reduce their operating costs and carbon footprints.
Peter Kindt, managing director of Alfagy, the company supplying the plant’s technology, said: “What makes this project exciting is that farmers deliver energy to the urban environment. We believe this is a model for the future of local power generation”.
The combined heat and power plant, which will begin operating in November, captures the methane-rich gas released by decomposing organic matter such as chicken manure. This is then burned in a generator to produce renewable electricity and heat. Farmers are paid for the waste and will receive free heat for drying grain and animal housing.
The smell from the waste is also reduced as the gases are extracted and burned. Any leftovers from this process can then be used as fertiliser. If used locally, this also reduces the impact of farming on the environment as it replaces conventional fertilisers which have large carbon footprints because of their energy-intensive production process and transportation.
Although biogas plants are widespread in Europe, particularly in Germany and Sweden, they are less common in the UK. Centrica recently opened a plant at Didcot sewage works which uses human waste to produce renewable gas for household use. The project is the first of its kind in the UK and will supply around 200 homes with renewable gas. Adnams the Suffolk brewer is also making the most of its waste matter and recently opened an anaerobic digestion facility which converts waste products from the brewing process into renewable energy.