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Waste-to-biogas plant will cut carbon emissions

PE

Gas made with household rubbish will heat homes and power lorries in the UK from the end of next year, after a deal secured for the supply of oxygen to the world’s first commercially viable domestic waste-to-biogas plant.

Air Liquide will provide high-purity oxygen to the Advanced Plasma Power and National Grid facility in Wiltshire for five years. The plant will use the gas and 10,000 tonnes of rubbish from the area to create bio-substitute natural gas, which emits 80% less carbon dioxide than diesel.

The developers said the technology could generate 100TWh of energy a year if used nationwide, meeting a third of the country’s heating requirements or powering all of its heavy goods vehicles. The facility will be a major step forward in “decarbonising the energy system,” they added.

Other potential uses include powering appliances such as boilers and cookers. Natural gas, similar to the largely-methane biogas, is also used as the basis for many chemical processes and can be used to make hydrogen, which can power cars, boats and buildings.

“Biofuels have an important role to play in keeping Britain moving and will deliver cleaner, greener fuels,” said transport minister John Hayes. “Thanks to our £11 million investment, this Swindon plant will help make significant carbon savings and deliver a boost to the technology.” 

First-generation biofuels, made from sugars and oils from crops, have been criticised for taking up large areas of land, worsening biodiversity and using plants that would otherwise have been food. Second-generation biofuels, including the gas from household waste, could lead to wider acceptance for the sector, said Philippa Oldham, head of transport and manufacturing at the IMechE. 

“From a transport perspective there is a huge opportunity to use biofuels to reduce emissions,” she told PE. However, she said there needs to be better coordination between governments and distributors to make biofuels more accessible and popular. 

Some experts believe biogas will have limited use worldwide, with more potential in hydrogen fuel cells or electric motors. Energy expert Mark Barrett from University College London told PE he does not see biogas as a major “energy vector” because of limits to sustainable biomass production and inefficiencies in the conversion process.

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