A bird reserve in the highlands of Scotland could soon be the source of bioenergy.
A pilot scheme has been given the go-ahead to explore whether reeds from RSPB reserves can be successfully harvested for use in an anaerobic digestion plant, or combined with grass and waste vegetation and turned into briquettes for use in boilers.
The funding has been award as the result of a competition ‘Wetland Biomass to Bioenergy’ aimed at designing practical ways to generate bioenergy. The £2 million project, set to run until March 2015, is funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change of the UK government, will see a mechanical cutter harvesting the reeds at three locations, which are Insh (Inverness-shire), Ham Wall (Somerset), and Minsmere (Suffolk).
Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said ‘Bioenergy is an important part of the UK energy mix which has the potential to reduce UK energy system costs by £42bn by 2050.
‘We are committed to helping small businesses to develop and grow and this is exactly the kind of innovative project I want to see.’
Sally Mills, project manager, added ‘Nature reserves are carefully managed to create the ideal habitat for wildlife, and part of this involves cutting back reeds and rushes. Wetland birds and insects need to have a patchwork of habitats from reeds, to shallow pools and short grass in order to nest and feed.
‘Across the UK conservation organisations produce thousands of tonnes of waste plant matter. In the past disposing of this waste has been a real issue – often we are forced to simply burn it on bonfires.
‘But the Department for Energy and Climate Change want to find new ways to produce energy without releasing unnecessary carbon into the atmosphere and asked us to investigate how we can turn the waste vegetation off our reserves into heat and electricity.
‘Using some pretty impressive technology, including mechanical cutters, briquette makers, boilers, biochar kilns and anaerobic digesters, the project is producing some amazing results. We have shown that we can take cleared wetland vegetation and use it to heat nearby buildings and produce electricity which can be fed into the National Grid.’
The creation of bioenergy from reeds has many benefits including the use of vegetation that would otherwise have been cut by hand and burnt, which incurs significant labour costs for little benefit. However, it is hoped that the mechanical harvesting of reeds will allow a significant amount of energy to be harnessed from a waste product.