Cornwall Council farms to trial production of new 'green' fuel made from cattle manure

Cornish dairy farmers look set to be trailblazers for a new alternative green fuel as part of a Cornwall Council pilot scheme believed to be the first of its type in the world. Together with Cormac, which looks after its fleet of vehicles, the authority has joined forces with six of its county-owned dairy farms and clean energy company, Bennamann Ltd, to trial the production of zero-carbon fuel made from slurry. If successful, the programme could be rolled out to hundreds of small-scale farms across Cornwall and create significant opportunities for farmers to diversify their income streams, save on operating costs, join the green economy and help fight climate change.

Deputy leader of Cornwall Council, Adam Paynter, whose portfolio covers Cornwall Council Farms Estate, with the first biogas converted Cormac truck

The move also signals the start of the council’s transition to running a low emission fleet and investment in world-leading sustainable agricultural technology to create more green jobs for residents and boost Cornwall’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

Edwina Hannaford, Cornwall’s cabinet member for climate change and neighbourhoods, said: “As we work on tackling the climate emergency and our coronavirus recovery this zero-carbon pilot will not only transform our Cormac fleet and cut emissions, but it brings investment to our farms and our agricultural and technological sector in Cornwall to create long-term, quality jobs in the green economy.”

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Over the last two years, Newquay-based Bennamann Ltd has been testing a patent-pending engineering method to turn farm waste – such as cow manure and grass cuttings – into biomethane, a zero-carbon fuel which can be used to power heavy goods vehicles and farm machinery. Its pioneering work has been supported by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Growth Programme’s Energy Independent Farm project, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund and led by Bennamann in partnership with the University of Exeter and Chynoweth Farm Partners.

Cornwall Council farms to trial production of new 'green' fuel made from cattle manureThe first biogas converted Cormac truck and converted ‘hotbox’ pothole repairer

Having already started trialling its processed biomethane in a tractor and Cormac’s fleet of tarmac hot boxes, Bennamann’s gas capture technology will now be expanded in sealed slurry lagoons on six council-owned dairy farms located across Cornwall. The GBP1.58 million council-funded pilot will see Bennamann collect and upgrade the biogas produced at the farms before delivering it to Cormac to fuel a fleet of 77 converted road maintenance trucks.

Farms taking part in the programme can sell the captured biomethane and develop a new revenue stream.

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Councillor Hannaford said biomethane could “play an important role” in Cornwall Council’s climate change action plan to help Cornwall become carbon neutral by 2030, adding: “This new technology, developed by an innovative Cornish company, will allow small scale farmers to join the growing biomethane market for the first time.” The biogas project is the first step in the Cornwall Council and the Corserv Group’s programme to transition towards carbon neutral fleet operations by 2030. 

Cornwall Council farms to trial production of new 'green' fuel made from cattle manureChris Mann (left), co-founder and chief executive of Bennamann Ltd and Al Hoare, group central services director for Corserv, with a converted ‘hotbox’ pothole repairer

Along with a new electric bikes scheme for council staff, over the coming months the council will also be introducing a new fleet of electric pool cars, as well as piloting electric vans and fire service vehicles. Chris Mann, Bennamann co-founder and chief executive, said: “Bennamann is passionate about delivering a local clean energy revolution that brings commercially viable, sustainable production and distribution of small-scale farm biomethane sourcing to the marketplace.

And this ground-breaking pilot represents a significant milestone in achieving that ambition.

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“We are proud to be a Cornish company that has the potential to radically change the global energy market and look forward to delivering a successful pilot that will put Cornwall at the forefront of pioneering renewable energy innovation, as well as help the council achieve its zero carbon goals and post pandemic recovery plans.” Al Hoare, group central services director for Corserv, which manages the Cormac fleet, also commented: “Our ambition is to transition our fleet to ultra-low emission vehicles by 2030, supporting one of our key priorities of tackling climate change and increasing sustainability. “While testing is still ongoing, this partnership could be a game-changer for Cornwall.

Initial data suggests that each pot hole repair unit converted to run on fugitive biomethane could reduce CO2e emissions by five tonnes per year; this is the equivalent volume to an average hot air balloon and would take five native broadleaf trees to offset over their lifetime (which is approximately 100 years).”

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