£23m world-first anaerobic digestion plant in Ballymena will deal chicken waste problem

This is how an anaerobic digestion plant looks
This is how an anaerobic digestion plant looks

A WORLD-first anaerobic digestion plant will open in Ballymena next year to deal with the environmental problem of the 40,000 tonnes of chicken waste produced each year by the north's billion pound poultry sector.

The £23.3 million operation, part-funded by a £7.4m loan from Invest NI, will be built at Tully Quarry, near the town, and will have the capacity to generate three megawatts of electricity - enough to power more than 4,000 households - and produce a high quality organic fertiliser.

It will be the first anaerobic digestion (AD) operation in the world to be fuelled exclusively by poultry litter.

AD is a treatment that composts organic waste in the absence of oxygen producing a biogas that can be used to generate electricity and heat.

Historically Northern Ireland has lagged behind the rest of Europe in terms of embracing this type of renewable energy.

The Tully project is being developed by Stream BioEnergy Limited, an experienced AD project developer, and will be built by Xergi and local firm BSG Ltd using an innovative nitrogen stripping technology to allow the plant to use up to 100 per cent poultry litter.

It has already received planning permission and secured the requisite permits to operate. Construction work will commence within weeks and it is intended that the plant will be operational in 2017.

The Foresight Group-managed Recycling and Waste (RAW) Fund, in which the UK Green Investment Bank is a cornerstone investor, has committed £8.7m towards the Tully operation and another £1.8m in a separate 0.5 megawatts Gorthill AD plant in Eglington near Derry, which will process agricultural waste to generate renewable electricity.

Other funding for the Tully plant is being met with £1.3million in equity from the Sustainable Utilisation of Poultry Litter (SUPL) Scheme as well as from Xergi.

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said: “This project is an outstanding example of public sector and private investors coming together to support a new technology for sustainable agriculture and to grow our economy.

"In addition to helping the local poultry sector to grow, the Ballymena plant will create up to 100 jobs during the construction phase with a further 11 new jobs available when it becomes operational next year.”

Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen added: “The project has seen close collaboration between technology companies, government and funding bodies, including the Green Investment Bank, and is a testament to our commitment to deliver a sustainable future for our agriculture sector.

"Projects such as this will play an important role in helping the poultry sector to address an environmental challenge.”

Edward Northam, head of investment banking at the UK Green Investment Bank, said: “We expect to see more rural communities exploring anaerobic digestion as a way of diverting organic waste from landfill while becoming more self-sufficient.

"These latest investments bring the number of on-farm AD plants supported by the GIB to six, five of which are located in Northern Ireland, demonstrating the growing demand in the sector.

“Plants of this scale save farming businesses money and can provide vital income through the sale of the electricity being generated.”

The poultry meat sector in the north employs around 6,000 people, mostly at Moy Park, and is a significant contributor to the region's economy, but the waste it produces has until now presented a significant environmental challenge.