A farm in Snowdonia has joined a pioneering European project which aims to transform problematic habitats into clean energy and new income sources for farmers.
Research has begun at the National Trust farm, Hafod y Llan, to trial the use of a new technology, developed in Germany, which could turn soft rush, gorse and bracken crops into viable biomass fuel.
The COMBINE project in Wales is being coordinated by non-profit company Severn Wye Energy Agency in partnership with the National Trust and the sustainable waste management organisation, Cwm Harry Land Trust. The project is funded by the European Union and the Welsh Government Trunk Road Agency.
Keith Jones, Environmental Advisor for the National Trust, said: “The crops we’ll be testing from our own estate are not suitable for animal feed or energy conversion technologies currently available. Basically they’re a bit of a nuisance for landowners at the moment.
“If the trial’s a success, it will help secure the livelihood for small farmers and people in isolated areas, who are struggling with the rising cost of energy. And it could have the added benefit of improving biodiversity through improved land management.”
Last week, experts were invited to take a look at a transportable version of the technology known as Blue Conrad. An adapted version of this could be used by cooperatives of farmers in future. Inside its blue box exterior, the double lorry-sized scheme washes problematic mineral content from material before pressing it for use as fuel. This unique pre-treatment process means that carbon emissions and ash content are reduced.
Three further regions across Europe are trialling the German-developed technology known as IFBB (Integrated Generation of Solid Fuel and Biogas from Biomass), including Germany, Belgium and in France where roadside verges are being tested for their potential to be turned into pellets or briquettes – a research area of keen interest to the Welsh Government’s Trunk Road Agency.
Once the four-month trial is completed in all regions, the results will be sent back to the University of Kassel in Germany to be evaluated.
Andy Bull, Head of Regional Strategy and Planning at Severn Wye Energy Agency, said: “In the past few years we’ve seen a decrease of agricultural activities, such as grazing, across Europe. Over time this could lead to a decline in our open landscapes and biodiversity, as these areas become dominated by shrub and woodland vegetation.
“The new technology we’re now trialling could help to prevent this problem, and while doing so also create more efficient energy supply chains. We hope it will resolve the conflict between bio-energy and food production by utilising raw materials which have previously not been suitable for biomass, such as roadside verges.”