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Cow manure provides the power at Waitrose Farm

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Waitrose has become the first UK retailer to power its machinery with natural gas from cow manure at its farm at the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, as part of a plan to reach net zero across operations by 2035.

Manure produced by the 500 cattle kept at the farm is harvested and upgraded on site, producing fugitive biomethane to fuel machinery and drive down GHG emissions. The pioneering facility and use of the sustainable fuel is expected to cut down up to 1,300 tonnes of carbon per year.

The facility, designed and built by Cornwall based Bennamann in conjunction with New Holland, features an innovative covered lagoon, the size of two and a half Olympic swimming pools, which holds the energy rich fluid separated from farmyard manure. 

The fluid which enters the lagoon emits gases, including methane. As the decomposition process happens, these are trapped and cleaned and upgraded in the system to biomethane gas, which is then used to power compressed natural gas (CNG) tractors. 

The project provides a great example of a circular process, from grazing cows in the field to producing manure, which then captures the methane gas and refines it, leaving behind a natural fertiliser, which will be pumped directly back onto the fields. The monitoring system for the facility is also powered by solar panels on farm buildings.

James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose, said:

“Two years ago we challenged ourselves to use Leckford as an experiment in farming best practices, to pave the way for genuine solutions to help conserve our soil, air and water for the future generations, and our biomethane lagoon does just that. An innovative example to help our farm and hopefully other farms, reach net zero.”

Michael Simpson, Bennamann Chief Executive Officer said:

“This partnership and investment into cutting-edge farming practises like our bespoke biomethane facility, has enabled the development of our next generation retrofit methane capture ecosystem. JLP’s (John Lewis Partnership) support has been instrumental in the development of our new retrofit slurry cover and methane capture technology, making it even more affordable to the small to medium sized dairy farmers, who can generate additional revenue or cost savings through the sale of excess biomethane or making their own 100% natural fertiliser as a byproduct.

“The fuel can also be converted into electricity for powering their farms, charging electric vehicles and or powering dairy equipment. This partnership demonstrates bold leadership by one of the UK’s most iconic retailers of how we can get to net zero, showcasing agriculture as the solution and not the problem.”

The Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Defra Minister of State, who was on site to officially open the new facility, said:

“Waitrose’s new biomethane facility really showcases the power of British businesses coming together to unlock innovative ways of helping to reduce carbon emissions in farming and tackle climate change.

“It is pioneering projects such as this, alongside the government’s continued investment in the development of new technology, robotics and automation, that will drive positive change across the sector and lay the groundwork for a more productive and sustainable agricultural industry that delivers for farmers, the economy and the environment.”

According to a spokesperson from Waitrose’s parent company, the John Lewis Partnership, the hope is that similar models could be implemented on other farms across the UK, creating biomethane and through this an additional income, while producing a 100% natural fertiliser. 

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