Anaerobic Digestion: West Somerset’s Potential to Make Money from Waste

For the past three years Forum 21 has been working in partnership with local businesses and other organisations to establish the feasibility of building an Anaerobic Digester to produce energy from our waste. We have raised £10,000 from the local organisations and from the Local Action for Rural Communities Fund to undertake a feasibility study.

Generating heat and power from food waste and other organic waste is now well established. The principal is very simple. Waste is put in to a container without any oxygen and the microbes (bacteria) consume (eat) the waste which in turn produce methane gas. This is a natural process that goes on in peat bogs which is why methane is also known as marsh gas. The methane gas can be used to heat homes and other buildings, or even be sold to Butlins to heat their swimming pool. Alternatively the gas could be burned to drive a generator and produce electricity.

Clearly the anaerobic digestion of waste makes great sense. Not only does the process generate income from the sale of heat or electricity, it can also produce fertilizer from the digestate.  Digestate is the sterile organic material left after the anaerobic digestion process. It looks and feels like compost.

Clearly anaerobic digestion makes economic sense but it is also good for the environment. Currently a lot of our waste goes to land fill. When disposed of in this way it produces greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change. Hence the benefits are two fold: it makes economic sense and produces an environmental good.

West Somerset Council will begin collecting household organic waste in the next year, so it makes great sense to convert this waste into a local resource. The large number of visitors to Minehead generate lots of food waste in addition to that produced by local households; add to this all the food waste from local supermarkets and other shops and we have a ‘small mountain’ of feedstock for the anaerobic  digester. The digester can also take some farm waste along with grass clippings and even recycled paper waste.

Other economic benefits include the creation of sustainable local jobs through waste collection and processing to the eventual sale of heat or electricity and of course the maintenance and servicing of the plant.

The feasibility study is been undertaken by Aardvark, a local company that specialises in anaerobic digestion. The whole project is managed on behalf of Forum 21 by Climate Action West which is a community interest company based in West Somerset.

If the feasibility study looks favourable the steering committee will have to decide how best to move the project forward. One option is to develop it as a community owned project. Some members of the steering committee have visited a community based anaerobic digester in another part of the country and were shown how this community had raised over one million pounds to develop a plant.