Human waste to provide gas for homes

Human waste is to be converted into gas as part of a £4.3 million pilot project in Manchester that will supply about 500 homes.

Human waste is to be converted into gas as part of a £4.3 million pilot project in Manchester that will supply about 500 homes.

In a UK first, United Utilities will turn a by-product of wastewater treatment at the city's Davyhulme plant into gas which could be used in the local pipeline network or as fuel for sludge tankers. The pilot has been given the green light after winning Government funding from Defra.

Biogas is produced when wastewater sludge is broken down by microbes in a process known as anaerobic digestion. The biogas is upgraded to biomethane, a renewable fuel with similar properties to natural gas, and compressed for use in vehicles or put into the gas grid.

The plans involve installing the upgrade equipment, a gas compression and fuelling station and a pipeline to link into the local gas distribution network. The project should be operational by early 2011.

One of United Utilities' sludge tankers has already been converted to run on diesel and compressed natural gas. It said the dual fuel system does not affect the engine performance of such heavy vehicles.

National Grid said there are no fundamental technical difficulties in injecting biomethane into the gas distribution network and plants in Europe have demonstrated it is safe.

The firm's biofuels manager, Caroline Ashton, said: "Sewage treatment is a 24-hour process so there is an endless supply of biogas. It is a very valuable resource and it's completely renewable. By harnessing this free energy we can reduce our fuel bills and reduce our carbon footprint."

Janine Freeman, head of the National Grid's Sustainable Gas Group, said: "This is the first time we will be able to supply renewable gas to consumers. This pilot is an important step in helping deliver a low-carbon energy future.

"This pilot project should supply gas to about 500 homes and the overall potential of biomethane from a plant like Davyhulme would be to supply a small town of about 5,000 homes."

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