Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit

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24.11.14 On-farm renewable fuels

Mike Woollacott, Greenwatt Technology

Transport is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Around a quarter of domestic carbon and other GHG emissions in the UK come from transport. Current studies on the links between transport and the environment are almost entirely focussed on urban systems and neglect to look at the environmental, social and economic transport issues and opportunities from a rural perspective.

With an increasing demand for food provenance and quality, UK farming is set to maintain it’s primary role and importance of feeding the nation. However what is also evident is that the industry can make a significant contribution to the UK renewable energy supply whether in the form of electricity, heat or transport fuel.

Emissions from Agricultural transport

British Agriculture represents around 8% of all UK transport GHG emissions, coming from on and off-road transport and other fossil fuel driven machinery.  The UK farming sector will be expected to implement changes to mitigate against environmental pollution, as well as taking positive actions to reduce the energy and fuel costs incurred in livestock and arable enterprises. In mitigation, farms have the potential to be a significant source of renewable energy generation and sustainable transport fuel production. The prospect of running farm, commercial (HGV) and passenger vehicles on renewable electricity, on biomethane (AD biogas upgrading), on biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol), from biomass processes (gasification, pyrolysis) and from hydrogen could have a direct impact upon the farm and rural economy as well as the environment.

To understand the key issues for more sustainable low emissions farm and rural transport and to stimulate the application of low carbon transport technologies and fuels on-farms and rural businesses, the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) commissioned the study “Refuelling the Countryside.” The aim of the study was to investigate the potential for innovative, low carbon transport technologies and fuels on-farm which could reduce farm transport fuel costs, lower the carbon footprint of agriculture and meet the transport needs of rural businesses and communities. The report was prepared by farm energy and renewable transport consultants Greenwatt Technology.

The report draws on national and international research, interview and case studies, and identifies activities already underway as well as reviewing a range of new energy and fuel technologies which will provide opportunities for farming communities who are open to investing in these innovations.

The study shows that there is a clear lack of field performance data relating to renewable transport fuels on-farm, which means that there is little evidence to demonstrate the real economic and environmental benefits of a shift away from high emission fossil fuels. Such technology developments could offer significant cost savings whilst reducing the carbon footprint of British agriculture.

Future innovations

Diesel has been the fuel of choice of farmers for many years and a shift to alternative more sustainable fuel sources will be neither easy nor straightforward. The study analysed a number of likely farm energy scenarios for the future and the main drivers of change that would influence each one. These scenarios highlight the relevance and impact that low carbon fuels can make for farming, the rural communities where they are located and the wider population they can both feed and fuel.

The electric farm of the future

Many farmers already produce renewable energy (RE), from solar panels, wind turbines or AD plants through CHP units. In the electric farm of the future we will see not only an increase in the amount of RE produced on-farms but also a greater focus on how that electricity is used, stored or sold. This will encourage storage solutions such as hydrogen.
Click here to enlarge image

The biogas farm of the future

Biogas generated from an AD plant has three potential uses:

♦ To power a CHP unit – with the electricity used on site or exported to the grid and the heat used on-farm or distributed to local users via district heating schemes

♦ To be upgraded to biomethane and injected
Click here to enlarge image                                   directly into the national gas grid (assuming the                                                                                                farm is close to a gas grid pipeline

♦ To be upgraded to biomethane for use as a renewable transport fuel. Biogas (biomethane)( fuelled tractors are already in operation in Germany, Scandinavia and the USA. Other farm vehicles could benefit through conversion to biomethane / CNG. With legislation in place, on-farm biomethane could service local collection / delivery transporters (like milk tankers) as well as local delivery vehicles.

The hydrogen farm of the future

Storage of renewable power will receive increasing attention from research and development programmes in the future. With most of the on-farm renewables being dependent on natural patterns or variable weather conditions, and national grid demand for electrical power fluctuating at peak times, hydrogen provides a likely RE storage solution.
Click here to enlarge image


In the future wind and solar energy will be used to power an electrolyser which splits water generating hydrogen and oxygen and stored in secure tanks. This stored hydrogen can then be used for fuel cell powered vehicles for farm transport needs, or converted back to electricity.

Hydrogen will lead to more autonomous farm vehicles (tractors of the future) powered by fuel cells and being used across the farm for arable cultivations and livestock operations.

Recommendations for policy makers

The report also introduces a number of policy recommendations, such as the creation of a Rural Green Energy Task force that could implement strategy, build upon local initiatives and co-ordinate inputs and engagement of rural businesses, community groups, representatives of land based organisations and other stakeholders.

Building upon the innovative reputation of British Farming, the UK could become a global example of a successful transition to a low carbon agricultural economy. Technological development will be driven by several factors – the need to farm more efficiently and sustainably, the importance of reducing soil compaction, the improvements needed to maintain farm productivity and improve farm income and the need to control and reduce the economic and environmental costs of farm transport and GHG emissions.

To read the full report, including lots of examples and case studies of farmers and rural communities already implementing some of this technology please click here.

18.11.14 The Farm Crap App needs your vote!

Following on from the success of the Farm Crap App at the Soil Association Innovation Awards a few weeks ago, the top three entries are now being pitched against each other in a public vote to see which one is the most innovative idea for 2014.

The app is designed to help farmers and growers value the nutrients found in their manures and slurries by providing a visual assessment of spreading rates of different types of manures and calculating the crop available nutrient content of that manure spread at that rate (depending on crop being grown, soil type and season). The app is free to download and doesn’t rely on mobile signal or wi-fi to work so you really can use it in the field.

The app has been developed to help prevent over application of manures and slurries and to promote proactive nutrient management planning which safeguards water quality, minimises greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces fertiliser bills.

If you would like some more information on the app please click here.

To vote for the app in the awards please click here. Voting closes on the 21st November.

18.11.14 RHI Obligations

If you have installed a heat system that is accredited under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme there are various rules and record keeping requirements that you need to adhere to in order to comply with the scheme.

The Farm Energy Centre has produced a guide which explains these ongoing RHI obligations and what you need to do in terms of record keeping.

Download the summary document here.

For more in-depth information and to read the guidance from Ofgem please click here

6.11.14 New IPCC summary reports released

The IPCC released two major reports on Sunday (2nd November), a report which summarises the key findings from the three working group reports which were issued earlier in the year (see earlier blog here), and a summary report on the main findings.

This is the strongest and most unequivocal statement of scientific certainty from the IPCC. Some of the key points are below.

Observed changes and their causes

Human influence on the climate system is clear and recent anthropogenic emissions on greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.

Observed changes in the climate system

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.  The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished and sea levels have risen.

Causes of climate change

Anthropogenic greenhouse have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with these of other anthropogenic drivers have been detected throughout the climate systems and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

Impacts of climate change

In recent decades changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate.

Future Climate Changes, Risks and Impacts

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reduction in GHG emissions, which together with adaptation can limit climate change risks.

Predicted change in the climate system

Surface temperature is predicted to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions.  The oceans will continue to warm and acidify and global mean sea level to rise.

Future risks and impacts caused by a changing climate

Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities.

This includes species extinction, lower oxygen levels for marine organisms, increased vulnerability for coral reefs and polar ecosystems, and increased risk to coastal and low lying regions from sea level rise.

Food security – marine biodiversity will be reduced affecting fisheries production, and in tropical and temperate regions, wheat, rice and maize will be negatively impacted when temps rise higher than 2˚C (although some locations may benefit).

Temperature increases of 4˚C or more combined with increasing food demand will pose large risks to food security globally.

Rural areas are expected to experience major impacts on water availability and supply, food security, infrastructure and agricultural incomes including shifts in the production areas of food and non-food crops.

Climate Change beyond 2100, irreversibility and abrupt changes

Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries even if anthropogenic emissions of GHG are stopped. The risk of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of warming increases.

Future pathways for adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development

 Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term and contribute to climate resilient pathways for sustainable development.

Risk reduction through mitigation and adaptation

Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high / very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.

Mitigation in the near term and throughout the century can substantially reduce climate change impacts in latter decades of the 21st century and beyond.

Some risks from climate change are unavoidable even with mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation

There are multiple mitigation pathways that are likely to limit warming to below 2˚C relative to pre- industrial level. These pathways would require substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades and near zero emission of carbon dioxide and other long lived GHGs by the end of the century. Implementing such reduction poses substantial technological, economic, social and institutional challenges which increase with delays in additional mitigation and if key technologies aren’t available.

Adaptation and mitigation

Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and co-operation at all scales and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives.

Mitigation options are available in every sector.

Effective adaptation and mitigation responses will depend on policies and measures across multiple scales, international, regional, national and subnational.

So it all makes for quite scary reading. What stood out for me is that the message is very strong and clear in that we are facing severe widespread and irreversible impacts if we don’t start to reduce emissions and mitigate our actions.

Carbon Visuals, a London based company which aims to help people visualise what carbon emissions look like, has produced this great little animation on what carbon emissions currently look like, and helps us to appreciate the size of the challenge that we all face to reduce GHG emissions and create a sustainable future. The video can be accessed here.

Source: IPCC Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report

03.11.14 Energy generation: A view from the farm

Recently appointed FCCT director Andrew Rigg has just taken carbon saving a step further on his farm in Hampshire. An all-electric car, a Nissan Leaf Acenta has arrived in the yard.  With a supply of electricity from his 20kW ground-mounted solar panels, Andrew has not only zero emission driving, but also zero cost…..

The panels are performing well; with 10kW installed at the higher rate, and another 10kW installed in 2013 they are collectively giving a 14% return on investment from the feed in tariff. In addition to this the farm’s electricity bill has been cut by 30%. The farm is a net exporter of electricity.

Not all the solar electricity is being used on the farm. A significant amount is also being exported to the grid with no further benefit to the business. “We looked at all sorts of mad and not so mad ways of using this ‘free’ electricity” says Andrew, “and finally decided that an electric car was a good way to go. The actual financial saving from using your own electricity is not huge, but the satisfaction of this, and never visiting a petrol station again, is immense!”

The range of the Nissan Leaf is about 100 miles, so you have to do some careful planning. This is made easier by the fact that car uses GPS and the phone network to look after you and guide to available charging points on your journey. 

“It’s almost worryingly quiet, but otherwise much like driving an automatic, though in addition to having no clutch it has no gearbox either. If you switch out of ‘Eco Mode’ it has quite fast acceleration, though of course you run the battery down quicker.”

It’s pretty clear to Andrew that these cars are going to get very popular, but there is another dimension to this story.

Nissan are working on a system to use the battery in the car as storage that you can then use to power your house. A fully charged Nissan electric car battery can power the average house for two days. The technology is not quite available yet, but it is not far off. For Andrew this will be an opportunity to maximise the benefits from the solar panels, as he will be able to use his car to store electricity produced from the panels in the day, to power the house in the evening. This will further cut his electricity bill, and put an even bigger grin on his face!

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