An upgrade from producing electricity to gas at a local anaerobic digestion facility has transformed a Norfolk town into one of the UK’s first green communities. 

The picturesque town of Attleborough in Norfolk has found a new claim to fame.

An upgrade to an existing anaerobic digestion (AD) plant on a former turkey rearing site means the town is now one of the UK’s first green communities.

The plant receives collections of waste produce from the local area – ranging from food waste from local businesses, to waste from abattoirs and local factories. Often preventing it from going to landfill. The waste is used to produce biomethane which is injected into the local gas grid supplying the town.

Chris Waters, Operations Director (North) of the AD plant’s operator, Eco Verde Energy, says although the new waste plant was constructed on the site of an existing anaerobic digestion facility, there were still some initial hesitations from the local community.

“The planning process was fairly simple; at first there were a few concerns from the residents that lived close to the plant, but once they understood the contained nature of the process of anaerobic digestion and the environmental benefits it brought, the local community were incredibly supportive,” he explains.

“There is a common misconception that AD plants are odorous, however all waste emissions are fully controlled. It is a highly regulated process and when it comes to odour control and biosecurity, we fully comply with extremely tight regulations that are routinely monitored by both the Environment Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency.”

Local support

Like most local residents, Elliot Ellis from the Attleborough Christmas Lights Committee, initially had reservations about a power plant being built so close to home, however after learning more, he has embraced Attleborough’s new green credentials.

He says: “When I first heard about the AD plant, I was worried about the potential environmental impact, especially since it’s about three miles from my home but now it’s in operation, the town has realised that there isn’t much impact on us because there’s no smoke or smell.

“Even in my lifetime, I’m seeing the effect of global warming and knowing that Attleborough’s food waste powers the town is a small but important way to reduce our impact on the environment.

“It’s amazing that we’re one of the UK’s first green communities – it really gets our name on the map and I’m so proud.”

Links between the community and the plant have been strengthened further by EVE’s sponsorship of the town’s annual Christmas lights display. Mr Ellis explains that partnering with a renewable energy provider is an important show of support, reflecting the local enthusiasm for clean energy.

“It’s an honour, it’s a good advertisement for renewable energy for the town.

“Christmas lights have a lot to do with energy use, so it’s good to show that we’re going green,” he adds.

Site upgrade

The upgrade to the site means there are now two AD plants on the same premises, which enables a wider range of feedstocks to be utilised.

The smaller AD plant uses an agricultural feedstock with a mix of rye, maize and sugar beet pulp to produce electricity to feed the digestors.

The second, newer plant is fed with a mixture of waste products from local businesses including food factories, takeaways and restaurants.

The upgrade to the site is timely as changes to the Environment Act mean local councils will need to collect food waste separately by 2025 to reduce emissions and increase the percentage of household rubbish being recycled.

According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the UK currently wastes around 9.5 million tonnes of food every year, with 6.6 million tonnes being thrown out by households.

This means that around 16% of all food purchased is wasted – enough to fill Wembley Stadium eight times over[1].

Environmental impact

Mr Waters is confident that AD can provide a solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of food going into landfill.

He says: “AD unfortunately doesn’t get the credit or the publicity that the other green energy generators, such as solar and wind generation receive, but I passionately believe it deals with the waste and landfill problem in a way that no other renewable technology out there does.

“We need to invest in building new AD installations across the country to process the extra food waste and harness green energy from waste.”

Mr Waters adds: “The site at Attleborough is designed to produce enough biomethane to supply all of the town’s 4,000 homes during the summer months and 50% of them during the winter months.

“I strongly believe that this is a model that should be rolled out in every town.”

Originally featured in BioEnergy Insight’s November/December issue.

Attleborough AD Plant: Key facts

  • Project Cost: £17m upgrade to existing AD site.
  • Leadership: Project funded by Privilege Finance; site managed by Eco Verde Energy.
  • Circular Economy: Processes town’s organic waste to power the local area
  • Waste intake: Capacity to process up to 100,000 tonnes of food and organic waste annually.
  • Energy Production: 87 gigawatt hours of biomethane produced annually, replacing over 11,000 tonnes of natural gas with renewable biogas.
  • Supply Capacity: Powers 4,000 Attleborough homes; meets 100% of town’s gas needs in summer and 50% in winter.
  • Location Advantage: Local facility reduces transport emissions and supports businesses in sustainable waste disposal solutions.

[1] https://wrap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2023-01/Food%20Surplus%20and%20Waste%20in%20the%20UK%20Key%20Facts%20December%202022.pdf

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