Thu 02 Sep 2021
A highly innovative Cornish Agritech company, Bennamann Ltd, is working in partnership with Chynoweth Farm near Truro to help the UK meet its ambition to achieve Net-Zero carbon by 2050, as well as to radically improve the sustainability, productivity and profitability of farming through a business model that will put livestock agriculture at the centre of a local clean energy revolution, globally.
Bennamann was established in 2011 by two local entrepreneurs who shared a vision to transform the economics of renewable energy and make it commercially viable from Day 1. But rather than using wind, solar, the sea or local hot rocks as a starting point for their revolutionary approach, they chose something most of us prefer not to think about too much, farmyard manure.
At the core of the company’s market disrupting proposition is a suite of IP protected hardware and software technologies that enable the local production, marketing and distribution of “better than net-zero carbon” energy. That is energy sustainably derived by capturing the fugitive methane emissions (emissions that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change) from decomposing organic waste materials on the farm, such as manure slurry, processing it on-site into compressed gas or liquid fuel, and delivering it locally to power lorries and tractors, heat households and businesses, and even charge electric vehicles! All at prices to consumers that will undercut the current fossil fuel incumbents, such as diesel, heating oil and propane gas, while providing cost savings and additional income streams that improve the profitability of farm businesses.
Projects and pilots making a difference.
Bennamann’s game-changing innovations include patented fuel tanks for the storage, transport and use of liquid methane; fuel delivery systems; techniques for capturing fugitive emissions from manure slurry lagoons; and fixed and mobile equipment for processing the captured biogas on the farm into liquified methane. The company has a number of major projects using these technologies underway at Chynoweth, along with a 6-Farm Pilot taking place on Cornwall’s Council Farms Estate.
One such project is a £1.2 million research and development initiative part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to establish a working example of energy independent farming. In collaboration with a team on the Cornwall campus of Exeter University, Bennamann and Chynoweth are proving an approach that maximises the use of on-site renewable energy resources in combination with dairy manure slurry, to supply all the energy needed for a farm, including powering the tractor and other farm machinery, thereby taking the site off-grid and dramatically reducing the operational costs for the business.
The project is also demonstrating how captured fugitive methane surplus to the farm’s own needs can be made available in gas and liquid form for local sale to create a profitable income stream for the farmer, and how the company’s process can improve the sustainability of land management by using the resulting digestate to help minimise external artificial inputs in the form of manufactured fertiliser. The project aims to provide a proven business model for a roll-out of this radical new approach across the county, the UK and beyond.
Alongside this project, Cornwall Council is combining its own ambitious plans to introduce renewable fuel sources to its vehicles with Bennamann’s ground-breaking approach in a ‘6-Farm Pilot’ project that will help boost the future of farming in the county, create more clean energy jobs for residents, and support climate change mitigation goals alongside a post-Covid recovery. The Council has invested £1.58 Million in the pilot, which will involve the installation of Bennamann’s proprietary sealed slurry lagoon-based biogas capture technology on six Council-owned dairy farms located across Cornwall. Using the company’s highly innovative slurry lagoon covers, the captured biogas captured at each site is temporarily stored above the manure surface until processed using a novel mobile version of Bennamann’s small-scale processing unit. The captured methane is then aggregated with that produced by the other farms in the pilot group and sold on to Cormac (the Council’s vehicle fleet provider) for vehicle fuel, thereby providing a profitable revenue stream to the Council’s tenant farmers while simultaneously helping the authority achieve its net-zero carbon goals. If successful, the proven model could be rolled out to more farms on the Council Farm Estate (there are 58 dairy farms in the Cornwall Council Farms Estate of 104 tenant farms) and to hundreds of small-scale farms across the county, creating significant opportunities for farmers to join the green economy and contribute to helping fight climate change.
Meeting regulatory obligations as well as transforming farming
In addition to transforming the economics of renewable energy and farm businesses, Bennamann’s technologies and processes provide a potential route to meeting a raft of forthcoming regulatory and payment scheme requirements. The most obvious of which is the mandatory need to cover slurry stores by 2027 in-line with the demands of Defra’s Clean Air Strategy. If open lagoons, pits and tanks must be covered by law, it makes sense to take the opportunity to use the captured biogas to generate additional income, reduce costs, improve the farm’s carbon footprint, and increase the sustainability of the farming operation. With regards to the latter, the Bennamann process allows farmers to improve soil biology and productivity, tackle legacy compaction, and move to an alternative approach in the form of regenerative farming.
A system that is more sustainable and holistic, regenerative farming involves developing and implementing production methods that increase the natural productivity of soils through working with nutrient cycles. By applying a better understanding of soil biology to land management, this approach results in healthier, higher quality produce that increasingly food aware consumers will want to buy. Bennamann helps to facilitate such a transformation by delivering energy independence and a profitable income stream from energy sales, creating an economic environment in which the transition can take place, as well as by providing a biologically enhanced digestate from the slurry which is used as a fertiliser replacing restorative treatment. Bennamann’s digestate not only regenerates soil but its use and method of application to the land reduces ammonia emissions, another aspect of slurry use that will become a legal requirement by 2025.
With the impending shift from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), covering slurry stores and undertaking a transformation of farming to a more sustainable regenerative approach may well provide access to grants and potential routes to payments. Bennamann and Chynoweth Farm are working closely with Defra to explore such opportunities as the eligibility details of the various grant and payment schemes that are being designed. Undoubtedly we will be seeing a lot more of Bennamann in the months and years ahead.
If you would like to discuss how you can transform your farm, contact Robert Bloomfield on 01664 502958 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.