Prince of Wales opens UK’s first gas-to-grid plant

Prince Charles opening Poundbury AD plant

HRH Prince of Wales has opened the UK’s ‘first’ commercial-scale anaerobic digestion (AD) and biomethane-to-grid plant at Rainbarrow Farm in Poundbury, Dorset today (21 November). 

Owned and operated by J V Energen, a joint venture between local farmers and the Duchy of Cornwall, the plant is reportedly the first fully-operational commercial-scale plant in the UK to inject biomethane (produced from the breakdown of organic waste) directly into the gas grid on-site. Scotia Gas Networks, which runs Southern Gas Networks – responsible for the local gas distribution network – was contracted by J V Energen to clean up the biogas produced by the AD process and inject the resulting biomethane directly into the gas network.

It is hoped that the plant will produce around 400 cubic metres per hour (cu m/h) of 96 per cent pure methane (mixed with propane and an odoriser) into the local gas grid, enough to supply heat for up to 4,000 houses in the local community in mid winter and 56,000 houses mid summer.

Using around 41,000 tonnes of maize, grass and potato waste grown by local farmers as well as organic waste from nearby factories, the anaerobic digester will produce approximately 850 cu m/h of biogas, which will be used in a combined heat and power plant to produce approximately 10 megawatts of electricity per day.

According to J V Energen, half of the electricity produced will be used to run the plant, while the rest will be exported to the National Grid. The plant has been generating renewable electricity since April, and over the course of a year is expected to export enough electricity for approximately 500 homes.

The plant also has the capacity to produce 23,000 tonnes of liquid, and 8,000 tonnes of solid, renewable fertiliser per year. Made up of nitrogen, phosphate and potash, the digestate is set to be used by local farmers in place of inorganic feedstock to ‘significantly increase food production in arable crops, and grass production for cattle’.

'Kick starting the anaerobic digestion sector'

Labelled as the ‘first’ commercial-scale AD plant in the UK to inject biomethane into the National Grid, the gas-to-grid facility has drawn the attention of the Prince of Wales (also the Duke of Cornwall), who has visited the site throughout its development. The town of Poundbury was created according to the principles of the Prince of Wales in 1994 as an example of urban design and sustainable living.

Speaking at the opening, the Prince of Wales said that he was particularly glad to be part of the plant's history as he has been "badgering the Duchy and others over the years that we needed to find a way of kick starting the anaerobic digestion sector in this country".

"I’m particularly pleased and proud that we’ve been able to today launch this remarkable engineering feat, of the first gas-to-grid operation, which I thought was just in the UK but I’ve been reliably informed just now that in fact its the first almost anywhere, which is another very encouraging part of this.

"What I really wanted to do today above all else was to thank so many of you here who’ve been playing such a very important part in ensuring that this project could actually get off the ground. I know so many have worked tirelessly, the Duchy of Cornwall team, who have been remarkable I think, J V Energen, all the farmers in the area who saw the point and got together on this exercise, Scotia Gas Networks, all the local businesses and tradesmen, the builders, electricians, engineering companies, all of whom have played such an important part."

Simon Conibear, Dorchester Estate Director for the Duchy of Cornwall, said: “This project is a major milestone for Poundbury, Dorchester and the Duchy of Cornwall and for the UK renewable energy industry. It is the result of exemplary collaboration with local farmers and producers of waste, and it will provide a substantial amount of renewable electricity and gas to houses and businesses on the development and further afield.”

Local farmer and member of J V Energen, Nick Finding, added: “Growing maize for the anaerobic digestion plant means we can produce much more energy per acre and we no longer have to send crops abroad to convert into biodiesel. Growing energy crops is an important additional income stream for local farmers like me.”  

Industry reaction

Speaking on behalf of representatives of the anaerobic digestion sector, Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) said: “The UK’s first successful commercial-scale gas-to-grid plant is an exciting development, demonstrating the ability of the AD industry to deliver large volumes of green gas into the grid for use today. 

“AD has the potential to generate £2-3 billion worth of green gas – equivalent to more than 10 per cent of the UK’s domestic gas demand – and support 35,000 jobs.”

Morton went on to say that AD could help shore up energy supply when existing energy sources are taken offline in a few years’ time, “helping to keep the lights on and meet climate change targets”.

“The Poundbury plant demonstrates that biomethane-to-grid technology works at commercial scale now. With 10 more plants scheduled to come online in the next 12 months, biomethane from AD should be recognised as the serious commercial energy proposition that it is”, Morton added.

David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association, representing the UK electricity and gas transmissions and distribution networks also welcomed the opening of the new plant, saying: “This is a very positive step towards greater use of green gas, an important part of an affordable low carbon future… and the injection of biomethane onto the grid helps to meet climate change targets whilst having an energy future that is affordable to homes owners [sic].

“…[I]t is essential that barriers faced in many projects like Poundbury across the country are removed. Challenges such as gas and waste regulation risk stunting this area of growth and we need to see a minister responsible to provide a controlling mind that will resolve them and ensure momentum after this project.”

Rainbarrow Farm is situated on Duchy of Cornwall land outside of the village of Poundbury and was built as part of the Prince of Wales’s sustainable community designs for the town. As well as providing waste disposal, it is hoped the plant will save around 4,435 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

The town of Poundbury is expected to be fully completed by 2025 when it will house approximately 5,000 people and provide 2,000 jobs in the factories, offices and general facilities across the site. It is already home to 2,000 people and provides employment for 1,600 people and is home to 140 businesses.

Read more about the town of Poundbury.