Alastair extols benefits of anaerobic digestion

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Anaerobic digestion could potentially be the next big thing for Borders farmers.

That’s the view of Scottish Borders councillor Alastair Cranston, who has returned from his third trip to Germany in connection with the latest in renewable energy technology.

Mr Cranston, who represents the Hawick and Denholm ward on SBC, was one of the founders of the Borders Machinery Ring, which he managed until 2002.

Since 2005, he has been involved in rural recycling and renewable energy initiatives and says anaerobic digestion has the potential to make a big impact locally.

“I was across visiting anaerobic digesters near Munich,” he told The Southern. “It was a private visit, with the idea of promoting farm-scale anaerobic digestion plants.

“The big benefit is that they can create a new source of heat and power in a local area.”

On-farm renewable energy and anaerobic digestion is more commonplace elsewhere in Europe, particularly in Germany and Denmark.

But the UK and others are lagging. Despite setting ambitious targets, the current reality is just around the 100 mark in the UK, while Germany can boast about 1,000.

The benefits are not only that biogas can be generated for on-farm use, but it can also be turned into cash with a connection to the grid and the leftover material used as fertiliser.

Mr Cranston was one of 12 farming sector representatives from across Scotland and the north of England who made the trip to Germany.

“We have formed a liaison with a cross-party group from across Britain and can now solve problems like grid connection, feedstock, planning and there’s funding for it,” he explained.

“Anaerobic digestion can create new business and new opportunities for income for farmers, from producing suitable crops and generating heat and power for themselves. They can also develop greenhouse activities and this source of heat and power could even be linked to local villages.

“This is a potential new industry in the Borders – potentially the only new industry.”

Mr Cranston says the technology behind anaerobic digestion is now scaleable, meaning plants can fit what is locally available.

“Once you put the material in, whatever it is, and then once the bugs have taken the methane out, it actually produces better fertiliser, so the farmer is in a win-win situation.

“The potential is definitely there. There is the old farming adage that once you get one started, it could lead to something else.

“As a potential new industry in the Borders, I think this could be very significant.”