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Clearfleau commissions first European AD plant using cheese by-products

Clearfleau, a UK-based provider of on-site treatment solutions for the food and beverage sector, is commissioning an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in rural Cumbria.

By feeding bio-methane into the gas grid, the facility will produce over £3 million (appr. €3.8m) per annum in cost savings and revenue, while supplying up to 25% of First Milk’s Aspatria creamery’s energy requirements.

The plant has been designed and built for Lake District Biogas, which will operate the site for 20 years, taking feedstock from the creamery site.

This comprises low-strength wash waters such as process rinses, supplemented by whey permeate – a cheese production residue after protein extraction for use in energy supplements – which is pumped to the AD plant from the creamery.

Gordon Archer, chairman of Lake District Biogas, said: “Completion of this £10 million project on time, given the weather conditions in Cumbria this winter, has been a major achievement for the project team and Clearfleau.”

“This is the largest AD plant on a dairy processing site in Europe dedicated to handling the residual materials from the cheese making process and we look forward to working with Clearfleau on future projects,” he continued.

When the plant is operating at full capacity – scheduled for later this spring – it will treat 1,650m3/day of process effluent and whey and generate around 5MW of thermal energy.

It will produce 1000m3 of biogas per hour, of which over 80% will be upgraded for injection into the national grid.

At least 60% of the bio-methane will be used in the creamery for steam generation, with the balance being used by local businesses and households in Aspatria.

Revenue benefits include 20-year index-linked, government-backed incentive payments, with about £2 million per annum in support through the government’s RHI scheme and a further £1 million through the sale of gas to the wholesale market and from the Feed-in-Tariff scheme for the power generated in the CHP engine.

The new plant, with its state-of-the-art technology, will take over from the outdated aerobic plant.

Clearfleau’s unique process takes the feedstock from the Aspatria creamery site and converts it into biogas, which is stored in the gas dome before being upgraded to bio-methane.

According to the company, 80% of the biogas is fed to a membrane-based upgrade unit that removes CO2 from the gas to produce bio-methane with a comparable thermal value to North Sea gas. 

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.

Supported by the government’s Environment Agency, this will ensure an early delivery of new tighter discharge standards, which are required by the Water Framework Directive.