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  • Writer's pictureBioYorkshire

Harnessing deep borehole geothermal energy for innovative agricultural heating and anaerobic digestion

The Biorenewables Development Centre (a subsidiary of the University of York) and partners are working with Wellfield Farm in North Yorkshire to spearhead a groundbreaking project aimed at revolutionising farming practices and enhancing sustainability through the repurposing of existing depleted deep gas wells to produce the geothermal energy. 



The project, supported by a £50,000 grant from Innovate UK Farming Innovation Programme seeks to explore the potential of utilising geothermal energy to enhance the efficiency of Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants.


Running for nine months the project will focus on three crucial feasibility elements:


  • Geothermal Heat / AD Combined System: Assessing the innovative integration of geothermal heat into the AD process, identifying necessary infrastructure, and determining the optimal size for the AD facility based on location, feedstock, and geothermal heat availability.

  • Feedstock Survey: Conducting a comprehensive survey to identify locally available feedstock and assess its suitability for AD, including factors such as calorific value.

  • Excess Heat Utilisation: Identifying potential applications for excess heat, including addressing local agricultural heat requirements, supporting controlled environment agriculture and other potential heat users.

Alice North, Bioeconomy Cluster Development Team Leader, Biorenewables Development Centre said; “We are thrilled to be part of this project. The use of geothermal heat in this way has certainly not been done in the UK but as part of the BDC’s work there will be a wide literature review to ascertain what precedent projects there are elsewhere in the world and what we can learn from them. This is a real opportunity to make a difference to the business models of farmers and landowners in our region but also on a national/international level.” 


David Ward, Co-Owner, of Wellfield Farm said; “This is an exciting time for the future of my farm and other farmers looking to diversify. I am delighted to be working with a range of experts in this field to create a circular approach to our farming, combining waste materials and a renewable heat source to establish a low carbon energy and biofuel/fertiliser market in our local economy.”


Russell Hoare, Managing Director, Third Energy added; “This is an interesting project which allows us to repurpose our wells for innovative research and development. If these feasibility studies prove to be successful we envisage the AD plant would provide heat, biofuels and fertiliser to local farmers (potentially using an existing subterranean redundant pipeline system for local distribution of biogas). The biofuel could also be exported to the gas grid via the existing redundant pipeline. If successful, this could provide a national solution for dealing with depleted fossil fuel wells, allowing other landowners and farmers to seize the opportunity created by the repurposing of these assets.”


The project will benefit from the expertise of various partners and contractors, including the Biorenewables Development Centre and Ceraphi Energy Ltd who will provide insights into geothermal systems through case studies and serve as leading geothermal engineers and developers. Bioeconomy consultants NNFCC will conduct the feedstock assessment and District Eating will undertake end-user assessments.  Third Energy, the onshore gas well owner will manage the project and facilitate a broad range of expertise.


The project aims to create a blueprint for utilising Net Zero solutions to meet agricultural heat and energy requirements, leveraging surplus heat and energy to diversify farming practices and enhance environmental and financial sustainability. By identifying efficient ways to use renewable heat for agricultural purposes, the project aims to help farms build resilient businesses in the face of climate change and evolving farming policies.


Upon completion of the studies, the project envisions the development of in-situ waste-to-energy solutions, making them more environmentally friendly by utilising renewable heat. This approach will inform the local availability of feedstock and determine the most profitable processes for farms. The knowledge gained can be applied locally and scaled nationally, especially in areas with redundant wells or the capacity to drill geothermal wells.


This project will pave the way for a more sustainable and economically viable future for agriculture, aligning with the broader goals of achieving net-zero emissions and addressing the challenges posed by climate change.


Contact

Anna Alessi, Project Manager, Biorenewables Development Centre, anna.alessi@york.ac.uk 


Russel Hoare, Innovation Manager, Third Energy, russell.hoare@third-energy.com  


Notes to editors 


Innovate UK is creating a better future by inspiring, involving and investing in businesses developing life-changing innovations. We provide targeted sectors with expertise, facilities and funding to test, demonstrate and evolve their ideas, driving UK productivity and economic growth. Join our network and communities of innovators to realise the potential of your ideas and accelerate business growth.Innovate UK: inspiring business innovation.


M Ward & Son is a forward-thinking farming entity based at Wellfield Farm in Great Habton. Committed to sustainable practices, the company is dedicated to exploring innovative solutions to enhance agricultural efficiency while minimising environmental impact.


The Biorenewables Development Centre (a subsidiary of the University of York) is an open-access Research, Development and Demonstration organisation working at the interface between academia and industry to develop, scale-up and help commercialise bio-based products and processes. It provides clients with innovative ideas to convert plants, microbes and biowastes into profitable, high-value, greener products. The Centre offers a broad variety of technical services using state-of-the-art integrated R&D facilities in the fields of chemistry and biology. Businesses are supported by delivering desk-based assessments (e.g. market research, facilitating connections across the bioeconomy sector, and helping companies to find value across their supply chain). The BDC also has expertise in bioeconomy cluster building activities offering support to build partnerships or collaborations in the bioeconomy.


Third Energy is a renewable energy company based in North Yorkshire. Having started out generating energy through onshore gas extraction, the company has transitioned away from fossil fuels. They aim to diversify the existing power generation assets and develop new sources of energy consistent with the UK Government’s Net Zero 2050 targets.


District Eating specialise in end-user assessments and sustainable solutions develop horticulture projects that utilise waste heat and CO2.  From community to commercial scale, their projects create jobs, increase food security and promote economic growth.



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