The chairman of renewables focused energy provider Ecotricity has just announced a large investment into what he believes could be a major source of energy for the UK and the rest of the world – gas produced from grass.
Ecotricity first received planning permission in October to build a brand new plant that will use a process of anaerobic digestion to produce energy providing gas from a commodity that is far from in short supply here in the UK – grass.
Plants producing biogas are nothing new but, Ecotricity explain, while many existing anaerobic digestion plans “burn the biogas to produce electricity in small on-site generators”, the new Grass Mill(s) will go further.
“The biogas is ‘scrubbed’ and upgraded to the UK’s high environmental and safety standards – to produce biomethane – which can be fed directly into the national gas network to replace fossil-fuel methane that’s used for heating and cooking in UK homes,” Ecotricity explained.
When the ‘feedstock’ (the material that is anaerobically digested – in this case grass) goes through the plant, it produces both biogas, which is used as above, and fertiliser, which is used to help grow further grass.
According to Ecotricity, this process is pretty much fully carbon neutral, both because of the lack of input required in producing the feedstock, and because of the carbon dioxide that the grass consumes while it grows.
“What is revolutionary about our Green Gas Mills,” the energy company said, “is the use of naturally occurring grasses as a feedstock, to produce truly renewable gas that recycles existing carbon in the atmosphere that’s been absorbed by the grass.”
And it’s efficient to boot. Ecoctricity reckon that a typical 5MW Grass Mill will require around 3,000 acres of grassland to provide the feedstock needed to max out its capacity. This, they say, will provide energy for some 3,500 homes.
The Mill for which they have already received planning permission is set to provide power for some 4,000 homes, and is due to be completed in 2018.
Importantly, Ecotricity founder Dale Vince believes that given the lasting nature of the raw materials required for this process, large scale development of these Grass Mills could provide the answer to Britain’s gas problems, eliminating the need for fracking. By his calculation, if 5,000 Grass Mills are constructed within the next 20 years, they could collectively heat 97% of the UK’s homes.
“As North Sea reserves run out, the big question is where we’re going to get our gas from next. The government thinks fracking is the answer, but this new report shows there is a better option,” he said.
“Through our research, we’ve found that using grass is a better alternative, and has none of the drawbacks of energy crops, food waste or fracking – in fact, it has no drawbacks at all. We need a proper review of where Britain gets its gas from – we can either frack the countryside or we can grow the grass. It’s that simple.”
The potential benefits of Ecotricity’s Green Gas push are broad – as they see it, their Green Gas Mills could:
- “Produce gas from grass
- Improve soil quality
- Support food production
- Financially assist local farmers
- Create wildlife habitats and replace inputs that damage the environment in conjunction with FWAG, Defra and Natural England.”
We’ll have to wait and see how effective the plans are in reality, and how feasible the scale of the roll-out that they predict really is, but at this stage, it does look like the future may now be that little bit greener.