Written evidence submitted by Bennamann Ltd (DHH0050)
Submitted by Dr Tim Fox CEng FIMechE, Head of Marketing and Public Affairs
Bennamann Ltd (www.bennamann.com) is an SME researching, developing, manufacturing, marketing and deploying innovative technology and business models for the commercially viable production, distribution and use of net zero-carbon biomethane from organic waste streams, including farm manure slurry and cut grass. The company employs nearly 40 people working on two sites in Cornwall, many in highly skilled science and engineering roles, and our ground breaking innovations include: patented fuel tanks and end-user customer applications for storage, transport and use of liquid biomethane; equipment to process and liquify biomethane at small-scale locally off-gas-grid and off-power-grid ; proprietary engineering for optimised small-scale anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas capture; and satellite enabled technology for optimised biomethane sourcing from grassland, as well as Internet of Things (IoT) enabled equipment monitoring, control, diagnosis, metering and customer billing. When integrated around the ‘Bennamann Cycle’ and deployed through our innovative business models, our technologies create a circular economy that delivers environmental and economic benefits, which add value for our customers and help unlock a local clean energy revolution.
Reason for Submitting Evidence
The substantial opportunity to decarbonise off-gas-grid space and water heating in rural homes through local commercially viable production and distribution of biomethane from organic waste, is poorly understood and not addressed in current BEIS policy initiatives.
Combustion of biogas for the decarbonisation of homes is not covered in the Clean Heat Grant Scheme as currently proposed. However, the evidence presented here makes a compelling environmental and economic case for its incentivisation to be included in BEIS’s forthcoming Buildings and Heat Strategy, particularly for the use of biomethane sourced from organic waste to decarbonise heat in off-gas-grid rural locations, a challenge that is especially acute in areas suffering power grid infrastructure deficits leading to capacity and connectivity constraints. Such an approach will deliver net zero-carbon (and ‘better than net zero’ in the case of biomethane sourced from animal manure slurry) heat and help meet a plethora of BEIS and other department policies as well as deliver the UK’s legally binding commitment to achieve net zero by 2050.
Inquiry Terms of Reference questions evidenced:
2. What key policies, priorities and timelines should be included in the Government’s forthcoming ‘Buildings and Heat Strategy’ to ensure that the UK is on track to deliver Net Zero? What are the most urgent decisions and actions that need to be taken over the course of this Parliament (by 2024)?
3. Which technologies are the most viable to deliver the decarbonisation of heating, and what would be the most appropriate mix of technologies across the UK?
4 What are the barriers to scaling up low carbon heating technologies? What is needed to overcome these barriers?
The case for decarbonising heat in homes as a component of a portfolio of actions aimed at reducing UK emissions to net zero by 2050 has already been made by others. In this evidence submission we address the three questions above for the specific and substantial challenge of decarbonising heat in off-gas-grid rural locations.
The current estimate for off-gas-grid properties in Cornwall is 54%, or 166,487 properties, of which around 155,000 are homes. The majority of these are in rural locations across the county and typically use bottled fossil fuel derived gas (ie propane etc) or oil for heat provision and have limited, or no, economically and technically viable low carbon options as alternatives. Solutions often proposed for such properties start with technologies for the electrification of heat provision, including heat pumps and hybrid heat pumps, but these are challenging to deliver across an area with limited power grid capacity and significant constraints on electricity supply.
In such settings the use of electrically powered heat pumps is in many cases not technically possible and/or undesirable/difficult from the perspectives of households. The latter can relate to a lack of physical space for installation, the historic or listed nature of the building, high heat losses that cannot be bought down cost-effectively, or aesthetic considerations associated with mature gardens, landscapes or architecture. These solutions can also potentially exacerbate rural fuel poverty issues, particularly in the case of Air-Sourced Heat Pumps (ASHP) which can be relatively expensive to run .
Other alternatives are extremely limited and include district heat networks or biomass boilers. However, the low density typical of rural housing makes the former unavailable in most cases  and, as recognised by the UK Government , there are air quality and sustainability concerns associated with the biomass boiler option. This situation in Cornwall is mirrored across rural UK and indeed the Government’s own modelling work  suggests that, for the domestic sector alone, around 20% of off-gas-grid fossil fuel homes are not currently suitable for low temperature heat pumps and are better suited to high temperature heating, such as biomass or combustion of biogas.
The combustion of biogas delivered as biomethane in compressed gas or liquid fuel form to produce heat for use in space and/or water heating offers a viable alternative option that, if produced from locally sourced rural organic waste materials such as farm manure or cut grass, is zero-carbon (or better than zero-carbon in the case of manure†). If locally produced and delivered effectively and efficiently, it can also be commercially viable and affordable, thereby reducing fuel poverty, as well as increase the energy security and resilience of rural communities.
Across the UK, rural communities have within them a considerable untapped resource of energy in the form of the biogas that can be derived from farm manures as well as the grass cuttings that result from a wide range of existing rural grassland management operations (for example, maintenance of roadside verges, community and school playing fields, golf courses, country hotels etc). In many cases these sources of energy are relatively small, being at the farm or village/community scale, but when sourced, processed to produce biomethane, and used on-site or aggregated and distributed locally to meet local rural energy demand, they represent a considerable opportunity for decarbonisation of heat.
The challenge is, however, how to access this unused zero-carbon source of energy when the rural production site is small-scale, is not served by an injection point to the gas grid, and, as in in many cases, suffers power grid connectivity constraints preventing biogas processing and/or export as generated electricity. To meet this challenge, Bennamann have been developing and proving a suite of technical solutions and business models that enable commercially viable off-grid utilisation of these local rural energy resources, in the form of compressed biomethane gas and liquid fuel, for the affordable decarbonisation of space and water heating in homes and buildings (ie farms, community halls, schools, businesses etc). For example, the company recently secured £668,577 of EU ERDF funding under Priority Axis 4 to support a truly ground breaking project in which farm sourced liquid biomethane will be used to power mobile off-grid electric vehicle (EV) charging units, with waste heat recovery for use locally in space and water heating. This pioneering integrated energy-transport-heat project will demonstrate the application of the technology in a rural home, a rural car park with adjacent community (Women’s Institute) hall, and in a rural business setting on a working farm. Post-project, the development will deliver a step change to the roll-out of EV charging infrastructure, particularly in off-grid or power grid constrained rural locations, as well as help support a transition to more sustainable livestock farming and green recovery led economic growth through the creation of clean energy jobs and business activity.
The combustion of biogas in homes for heat decarbonisation will not be supported through the Clean Heat Grant Scheme in its proposed form , doing so in BEIS’s forthcoming ‘Buildings and Heat Strategy’ is therefore critical to helping incentivise the growth of the low carbon heat supply chains for these building-level technologies, ahead of the future phase-out of high carbon fossil fuel heating. In parallel with financial incentivisation, BEIS can help with market addressing actions including, for example, ensuring a supportive regulatory environment for the safe use of biomethane for space and water heating in homes.
On the biomethane supply side, Bennamann has been commercially proving the efficient and optimised local, small-scale capture, processing, storing, aggregation and distribution of compressed gas and liquid fuel in rural Cornwall. In this regard, for example, the company’s £1.22 million “Energy Independent Farming” project, part funded by the EU’s ERDF, is demonstrating the use of Bennamann’s technology and business model suite to deliver off-grid (gas and power) energy independence for a working dairy farm, including self-sufficiency in off-road mobile machinery (ie tractors etc) energy supply, whilst simultaneous saving other input costs (ie fertiliser); increasing farm business income through sales of surplus biomethane; and enabling soil restoring regenerative farming practices through post-processed digestate use.
The commercial roll-out of rural off-grid heat provision based on a local supply of biogas, sourced from cut grass or manure slurry and processed to biomethane in small-scale upgrading plants, is scalable and viable in the UK. For example, there are circa 600 dairy farmers alone in the rural county of Cornwall (131,000 dairy cattle – 6% of the national herd), many of whom are off-gas-grid and subject to power grid constraints. Of these, there are an estimated 120 farmers in a position to adopt Bennamann’s technologies and business models in the short-term, including the 58 dairy farms in Cornwall Council’s own Council Farm Estate. Indeed, in the case of the latter, the Council has already begun a pilot installation on 6 of the dairy farms in the Estate which, if successful, is intended to lead to a wider roll-out across the county [3, 4].
In terms of scalability across the UK, there are circa 2,000 dairy farms in the South-West and around 29,000 holdings in the UK have <150 cattle, which constitutes 71% of the cattle farms in the UK. With current farming practices, costs of AD plant, and levels of low-carbon energy incentives, modelling has shown that only 3.5% of UK dairy livestock would be linked to economically viable on-farm plants (currently there are only 45 small scale ADs in the UK). Alternatively, Bennamann’s farm-scale biogas sourcing, biomethane processing, storage and distribution technology would enable 71% of UK dairy farms to become economically viable ‘better than zero-carbon’ energy producers. This would potentially result in an emissions saving of circa 34 Million tonnes CO2e annually for the UK, or 7.5% of total UK CO2e emissions, just from the mitigation of the manure slurry (fugitive) emissions, before accounting for the emissions savings that will accrue through the use of the derived biomethane for off-grid heat energy provision.
Incentivising a scaleable roll-out through stimulating demand for biomethane use in off-gas-grid rural heating would not only help decarbonise heat in homes, it would also enable dairy farm businesses to generate an additional revenue stream that can provide them with income diversity and increased profitability. As volatile global milk prices continue to undermine confidence and dairy farmers ability to invest, this technology will offer a lifeline to small and medium size farms across the UK. In addition, stimulating biomethane production at the farm-scale for local distribution and use in heat provision would help improve the overall sustainability of farming, through on-farm use of some of the resulting zero-carbon energy, as well as improved nutrient cycling and soil biology practices by use of the resulting digestate as a regenerative replacement for artificial fertiliser. Implementing the latter through Bennamann’s proprietary digestate handling processes will substantially reduce the release of ammonia, thereby mitigating air quality degradation and helping to meet the policy objectives of Defra’s Clean Air Strategy 2019.
- an attractive non-electric affordable net zero heat option which is particularly beneficial for decarbonising off-gas-grid locations (where building owners/occupiers typically resort to bottled gas, e.g propane, or oil for heating), especially where power grid capacity and constraints are an issue in meeting electrical demand;
- decarbonisation of difficult to tackle sectors, including heat and agriculture, in the quest to achieve the UK’s legally binding net zero target by 2050 as well as meet the nation’s Paris Agreement commitments;
- the uptake of net zero-carbon heat to deliver the heat component of the Clean Growth Strategy, which commits to the phase out of the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in buildings off the gas grid in the 2020s;
- commercial deployment of technologies consistent with the UK’s ‘Industrial Strategy’, the findings and recommendations of ‘Smart Specialisation in England”, the UK Government’s ‘Eight Great Technologies’ and which support the Low Carbon Innovation Coordination Group strategic framework;
- the UK Renewable Energy Roadmap, which extensively considers the need for the supply and utilisation of renewable heat, by researching and innovating a new approach to the provision of off-grid bioheat for space and water heating;
- climate emergency and net zero-carbon aspirations of rural local authorities nationwide, while simultaneously delivering distributed local energy, reduced fuel poverty, improved local energy security and rural resilience;
- the Clean Air Strategy 2019 through the reduction of ammonia emissions from livestock farming;
- the Agriculture Act through sustainable and regenerative low carbon farming that enhances biodiversity, delivers environmental growth, and creates a circular economy model for agriculture;
- green recovery led local growth and rural economic development through creating sustainable low carbon farming and local energy sector related jobs that improve rural livelihoods and drive post-pandemic economic regeneration.
Given these benefits, not supporting the combustion of biomethane for decarbonising homes in BEIS’s forthcoming Buildings and Heat Strategy would be a significant missed opportunity.
†Note: Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) with a 20-year global warming potential (GWP) which is 86 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2). By capturing fugitive methane ( https://bennamann.com/dl/fugitive-emissions ) from animal manure and using it to replace liquid fossil fuels, such as diesel, it is possible to deliver negative carbon footprints  and help achieve net zero by 2050.
 Cornwall Council.
 BEIS, Future Support for Low Carbon Heat: Consultation, April 2020.
 LowCVP, A review of well-to-tank GHG emission values and pathways for natural gas, biofuels and hydrogen, January 2020, Available (PDF) at: https://bennamann.com/downloads/LowCVP-WTT_GHG_Emission_Factors-Review_and_recommendations.pdf
(Ends, Dr Tim Fox, Bennamann Ltd, 13/10/2020)