Sustainable energy from Cumbrian cheese

Nestle Fawdon AD plant built by Clearfleau. Once operational the plant will feed bio-methane into the gas grid.
Nestle Fawdon AD plant built by Clearfleau. Once operational the plant will feed bio-methane into the gas grid.

Leading UK-based provider of on-site AD-based treatment solutions for the food and beverage sector, Clearfleau, has finished the first stage in a major sustainability project for First Milk, at one of the UK's largest cheese creameries. Once operational, the plant will feed bio-methane into the gas grid - the first dairy processing site in Europe to do so.

Lake District Biogas (LDB), a company set up to manage the project for First Milk, has commissioned Clearfleau to design, build and operate the bio-energy plant. When operational at the cheese creamery in Aspatria, rural Cumbria, Clearfleau's proven, British digestion technology will reduce residual sludge management costs, while generating renewable energy for use on site.

Revenue benefits will include 20-year index-linked, government-backed incentive (FiT and RHI) payments. When commissioned, the digesters will generate 1000 m3/ day of biogas, much of which will be upgraded for injection into the national grid. Some bio-methane will be used in the creamery for steam generation, reducing net purchase of fossil fuels, while the rest of the gas will be consumed by local users.

Power generation

Tom Northway, Director of Lake District Biogas says: “Clearfleau's on-site digestion technology has been selected as it has a proven track record in the dairy sector. It will optimise gas output and deliver a solid return on capital invested. We are delighted this will be the first plant in the dairy sector to supply green gas to the national gas grid.”

The feedstock from the Aspatria creamery site comprises low-strength wash waters such as process rinses, supplemented by whey permeate (cheese production residue after protein extraction for use in energy supplements). This will be pumped to the AD plant from the creamery.

As an initial step, Clearfleau refurbished the existing aerobic plant to enable First Milk to significantly reduce levels of phosphate in their effluent, which is discharged to the River Ellen. This will ensure an early delivery of new tighter discharge standards, which are required by the Water Framework Directive.

Improve water quality

Stewart Mounsey, Environment Manager at the Environment Agency welcomed the early delivery of this work and says: “This will make a significant contribution towards the reduction in phosphate levels in the river. It’s important for the health of our rivers and streams that businesses do their bit to help reduce pollution and improve water quality”.

The integrated on-site AD plant will take over from the existing aerobic plant in early 2016 and will treat the creamery’s wastewater output as well as its whey permeate.

Clearfleau’s on-site AD technology is proven to reduce the chemical oxygen demand (COD) of the production residues by 95%. Aerobic polishing will then remove residual COD and nutrients (nitrates and phosphates) to allow safe river discharge.

Best technology

Chris Gooderham, Director of First Milk says: “By utilising the very best technology from Clearfleau, First Milk will reduce the cost of handling the creamery’s production residues, while generating renewable energy for use on site. Therefore the new AD plant is more efficient, produces much lower greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reducing off-site transport of residues and making better use of the whey permeate.”

Craig Chapman, CEO of Clearfleau Limited adds: “Use of aerobic treatment for dairy processing residues is outdated. The revenue and energy contribution from AD offers a much better return than a new aerobic plant. Moreover most AD systems are not suited to dairy feedstock or treating feedstock containing fatty residues. Clearfleau's technology is well proven in the dairy industry and offers a robust, low risk solution."

“The project will generate biogas solely from cheese production residues, using advanced British technology. It is a very positive move by First Milk to future proof their leading creamery operation by generating a significant proportion of their site’s future energy needs,” Chapman concluded.

This project generating biogas solely from creamery residues to help power creamery operations is based on proven British technology. It is a major development for First Milk and its partners, Lake District Biogas, Renewables Unlimited and Clearfleau Ltd.