British farmer is building the world's first oilseed rape powered electricity generating station

September 09, 2004

Pioneering British farmer Clifford Spencer is building the world's first oilseed rape powered electricity generating station. Clifford says the rape burning process he is pioneering would be particularly useful for organisations such as hospitals because of the power, and the hot and cold water the process generates.

Springdale Crop Synergies, where Clifford works as a managing director, developed a method of using all the plant, including the meal left by crushing seeds to create oil, and turn it into power. This marks a significant step forward in the development of electricity from biomass, or plant material.

Spencer sees his model as the future of British agriculture, if it is to get back to growing things that markets really want. He began to diversify from traditional crops in the 1990s when he feared commodity prices might fall - as indeed they did.

Springdale Crop Synergies has led the way in Britain in the production of non-food crops: next year his company will grow 70,000 acres of plants for use in industry rather than food. The company was formed to react to an obvious need to link research, industry and agriculture in areas of crop development for non-food applications. It states vanguard husbandry, and improved harvesting and storage technology are key elements to commercialise crops.

A third generation farmer, Clifford has achieved several UK crop yield records. He is the leading nucleus seed producer to all the major European breeders, National Institute of Agricultural Botany variety panel member, Processors and Growers Research Organisation panel member, Agricultural Trade Awards national judge and Barclays Bank Farm of the Year award winner.

Clifford together with more than 100 local farmers, working under contract, will grow 1,400 tons of rape. The rape oil will be burnt at a plant to be built on Clifford's farm. By harvest time next year, they hope to have an electricity output of 1 megawatt, enough to power 1,000 homes. Clifford will run his farm on it and the surplus will be sold on to the UK's national grid.

The meal, left from crushing the seeds will be mixed with recycled vegetable oil to 'fluidise it'. Springdale has exclusively licensed a turbine technology with an afterburner to process this. It has also patented a heat transfer process used in burning the meal.

Using the entire rape crop has several advantages according to Clifford. One is that because the crop isn't being used for food, farmers can fertilise the crops with sewage, which is an effective way of using sewage without it needing to be processed.

Springdale is also located close to the Yorkshire coalfields, which are now considered uneconomical to mine. The gas turbines at the coalfields, once used to burn the methane released at the mines, can be converted to burn the rape meal.

Springdale is using the NK branded Royal variety of oilseed rape, which it finds the highest yielding variety. The seeds are supplied by giant Anglo-Swiss agribusiness Syngenta.
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British Information Services

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