Marc McElhinney, managing director of renewable energy firm gfd talks about the benefits of biogas.

Sustainability is at the heart of agricultural best practice. Farming and renewable energy have gone hand in hand for years and anaerobic digestion (AD) or biogas plants have grown in popularity. Those accepting agricultural feedstocks (including manures, crop residues, and/or bioenergy crops) are now the AD industry’s most common type of plant, with 369 such facilities across the UK1.

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With agriculture estimated to have been the source of 48% of the UK’s methane emissions in 2020 – an increase of 1.3% on 20192 – the trend towards on-farm AD is set to continue. Not least because, unlike other renewable energy technologies, biogas offers multiple additional benefits beyond simply green power. Here, we take a look at the seven main benefits of AD to farmers…

1: Income diversification

Anaerobic digestion provides numerous options for farmers to diversify their income through different streams, including lease payments for project land, long-term feedstock, digestate removal contracts, and free digestate for use on the farm. Innovative models, like those offered by GFD, also offer different options for increased project equity or profit sharing.

2: Income stability

The revenue generated through AD is regular and stable, helping to offset notoriously volatile incomes from traditional agricultural products. Leasing land for anaerobic digestion, as well as supplying feedstock and receiving energy production payments, can provide long-term, predictable income streams without affecting the overall farm business.

3: Slurry and manure management

Slurry and manure represent a significant management issue for livestock farmers as environmental rules become more stringent. Anaerobic digestion provides a unique tool to produce energy from manures and other agricultural wastes, while still providing sustainable biofertiliser in the form of digestate.

4: Crop rotation

Biogas production can support new crops in the rotation, improving diversity and boosting crop health. Although livestock wastes are GFD’s preferred feedstocks, in many cases, there are also technical and agronomic advantages to using a proportion of energy crops in the feedstock mix for the digester.

5: Soil health

AD offers significant benefits in terms of soil health. Improving crop rotations and using sustainable biological fertiliser in the form of digestate can boost soil organic matter, improve soil and crop health, and increase the potential for soil carbon storage.

6: The path to net zero

On-farm AD plants can help reduce a farm’s carbon footprint by preventing emissions from agricultural wastes, slurries, and by-products, while digestate can offset emissions from synthetic fertiliser. In addition, using a proportion of the renewable energy produced on site can also help farmers to become net-zero carbon emitters.

7: Home-grown heat and power

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of having an on-site AD plant is the potential for on-farm use of the renewable energy generated. Depending on configuration, biogas plants can provide farms, rural businesses, and households with a reliable supply of electricity, heat, or fuel for tractors and other vehicles.

Mr McElhinney concluded: “GFD has partnered with leading European renewables investor SWEN Capital Partners to offer fully funded AD plants to progressive farmers in Scotland and Northern England. And thanks to our novel ‘hub and spoke’ model, being close to a grid connection point is not a requirement either. This means many more farmers can enjoy the benefits of biogas.”