On Thursday 21 September, Shropshire Council is expected to approve plans for a pyrolysis plant in Shropshire. This a plant that heats carbon waste from farming and forestry and creates biochar which stores carbon. Biochar can be used to improve the quality of soil increasing crop yields. A £2million plant in Shropshire would be the first to be owned by a local authority cementing (if that’s the right word) its commitment to tackling climate change. Shropshire Council is considering three locations for the pyrolysis plant: the former highways depot at Cantern Brook, Bridgnorth; Battlefield in Shrewsbury; and the former biodigester site at Coder Road Ludlow.

You will not be surprised to hear that myself and fellow councillors are backing Coder Road. It is an ideal location. Ludlow is surrounded by farming and forestry which will produce the feedstuff. There is space for a pyrolysis plant at Coder Road which is an established waste site with the former biodigester and the adjacent former household recycling centre.

Ludlow Biodigester (disused)
Former household recycling centre

Creating biochar is a bit like creating coal. Burning coal kickstarted the industrial revolution right here in Shropshire. But we have burnt too much carbon, not just coal but also oil and gas. Our planet is warming and the climate is becoming unstable as this years extreme weather events bear witness. Creating biochar will help sequest carbon, storing it for generations. It can be used as a soil improver and that is vital for agriculture.

Pyrolysis involves heating of organic matter at high temperatures without oxygen. It creates gases and oils which can be burned in a generator to produce clean renewable electricity, around 35% of which is recycled to power the unit. Excessive power can be exported to the grid. There is already a connection in place between the former biodigester site and the Squirrel Lane substation.

A century of intensive farming has depleted the quality of agricultural soils requiring significant application of nitrogen fertilizer. This is expensive and only 20% to 30% of the nitrogen is taken up by the crops. The rest leaches from the soil through runoff and erosion. This raises nitrate levels in our rivers and streams, a problem that has put the brakes on some housing developments. Incorporating biochar into soils increases the soil’s capacity to store carbon and to fix nitrogen. Thought not usually a fertiliser itself, biochar reduces nutrient loss and prolongs fertiliser efficiency.

We have local rivers, the Clun and the Wye among them, that are overloaded with nitrogen. That reduces their ability to support wildlife. Use of biochar in catchment areas to fix nitrogen in the soil could be part of the solution. It could be a partial antidote to modern farming methods. Biochar retains water well and that could cut irrigation needs.

The Coder Road biodigester was shut down in 2012. This was at a point when Shropshire Council’s leadership was sceptical of climate change. An attempt to get the biodigester back into operation in 2013 failed. Since then, Shropshire Council has rebuffed offers for the site from local businesses seeking to expand. It has proposed reinstating the site for biodigestion if the government mandates separate collection of food waste. With the government floundering and a general election due next year, that mandate is unlikely any time soon. Meanwhile, the biodigester is being reclaimed by nature. The site needs to be brought back into active use.

Food waste can be used as a feed for pyrolysis. That leads to the possibility of the green bins from Ludlow being emptied at Coder Road and the contents used to create biochar. Poultry waste could also be used rather than spreading bird manure on open fields leading to leaching and river pollution.

Use of biochar is in the early stages. That’s much like biodigestion was when the Ludlow biodigester was set up. The biodigester kickstarted a local industry that installed biodigesters on farms around the country. There is a lot to learn about biochar. That’s one reason why the Coder Road site is ideal. Many of the basic facilities are in place, including a large meeting room which can be used to brief farmers and other potential users of the technology.

Ludlow would once again be a centre of green innovation. That will create jobs and a throughput of apprentices and journeymen that go on to promote and improve biochar use around the country.

3 thought on “Ludlow on shortlist for biochar processing centre on Coder Road”
  1. Will there be any smell from this project. There are many nearby houses.
    How will the inevitable increase in heavy lorries etc delivering to the site be handled. The junction off Sheet Road is already a problem.

    1. There would be very little smell. Certainly far less than the previous Anaerobic Digestor. The green waste used in the unit wouldn’t include kitchen waste which is what can cause smell in AD plants. The emissions would be filtered by water and a scrubber that removes nitrous oxides. Which makes it cleaner than a domestic gas boiler. There will be an increase in traffic which would need consideration.

  2. I would agree that Coder road is a great location. I think a key angle is the development of the market; in particular biochar with poultry and dairy farmers. Biochar is currently expensive and the ways it can save farmers are complex and not clearly known so more research and farm trials to boost this market are needed. The ability of biochar to reduce pollution (like activated charcoal) could significantly clean our rivers and air. Biochar in materials is also very exciting and the trials in asphalt by Miles Macadam are very welcome. We need some of these trials in Shropshire.

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