AFBI’s new research centre on renewable energy nears completion
A major step forward in renewable energy research is taking place with the construction of a new Renewable Energy Centre at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute’s Hillsborough site.
The anaerobic digestion facility currently under construction at the AFBI Environment and Renewable Energy Centre at AFBI Hillsborough.
The Environment and Renewable Energy Centre (EREC), which is due to become fully operational this autumn, is already taking forward significant research projects funded by DARD into key renewable energy technologies such as the anaerobic digestion of animal manures, the management of miscanthus as a biomass crop and the uilisation of forest brash for biomass. The centre incorporates a 300 kW biomass heating system which will utilise short rotation coppice willow and forestry residues and a 600 cubic metre anaerobic digester which will produce biogas, mainly from the manure from the 320 cow AFBI Hillsborough dairy herd. Biogas from the digester will produced electricity and heat for the site through a combined heat and power (CHP) unit. Facilities to evaluate drying and storage systems for wood chips and other biomass crops, and solar panels designed to supply hot water to the Dairy Unit will also form part of the centre.
Environmentally friendly building techniques have been incorporated into the design of the centre including the use of hemp-lime construction for some walls and external cladding using timber from AFBI Hillsborough or other local forests sawn on site.
The anaerobic digestion research aims to develop techniques to maximise the biogas output from animal manures. Short rotation coppice willows are also being grown in a project to evaluate adding value by using them to bio-remediate farm dirty water. An area of Elephant Grass (Miscanthus) has been planted for evaluation as a biomass crop and, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Forest Service, specialist equipment has been brought into Northern Ireland to bale forest residues for subsequent use as biomass fuel. A number of other biomass crops, with potential for Northern Ireland, have also been identified by the AFBI Global Research Unit and field studies are being initiated to determine their performance under local conditions.
Development of the Environment and Renewable Energy Centre is being led by Dr Lindsay Easson, who comments, “I believe that the AFBI Environment and Renewable Energy Centre builds on the many years of work by AFBI on willows at AFBI Loughgall and the research on agricultural production systems at AFBI Hillsborough. The Centre gives AFBI a unique facility that can provide answers to the key questions currently being raised about how renewable energy enterprises can find a viable place alongside food production in Northern Ireland’s rural communities”. Dr Easson went on to say, “The Centre will be able to determine the carbon savings from renewable energy projects and evaluate their economic viability and sustainability, thus providing evidence on which to base both policy and business decisions about the future role that agriculture and forestry can play in achieving carbon emission targets.”
Dr Lindsay Easson, (right) AFBI Environment and Renewable Energy Centre project leader photographed with Dr Peter Frost, (left) Anaerobic Digestion project leader and Chris Fletcher, (centre) site manager for H & J Martin, Building Contractors study plans for the Environment and Renewable Energy Centre at AFBI Hillsborough.