Category Archives: Guest blog

Cranfield University’s Anaerobic Digestion Research Pilot Plant Facility

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In our first guest blog, Dr Cecilia Fenech from Cranfield University gives an overview their AD Research pilot plant. Dr Fenech was previously a fellow in the Marie Curie ITN ATWARM, which was also coordinated by the QUESTOR Centre at Queen’s University Belfast. 

Cranfield University’s AD research pilot plant facility provides a unique integrated facility for companies to use as a ‘plug-and-play’ opportunity for research and development. The commissioning and opening of the plant is one of the Bio-Thermal RED (Biological and Thermal Renewable Energy Demonstrator) project milestones. The Bio-Thermal RED project is partly (40%) funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with match funding (60%) by Cranfield University. Additionally, the AD reactor vessels and part of the commissioning cost were donated by Shanks Waste Management.

The AD pilot plant at Cranfield University will treat food-waste arising from the Cranfield University campus and be available for large-scale R&D projects. Companies can use the demonstration facility as an open access “plug and play” facility. Thus companies can robustly and objectively demonstrate, de-risk and develop their technology as required to commercialise their products with subsequent promotion through the knowledge hub events and services. This will create and develop regional expertise in AD design and deployment ensuring regional businesses and the knowledge base are at the centre of developments within these sectors and thus best positioned to capture the emerging opportunities.


The Cranfield University AD’s units are at the m3 size to ensure initial manufacturing and development costs for company equipment are kept as low as possible. The demonstrator is of a modular construction and mounted on skid-type frame assemblies. This facilitates integration of skid mounted equipment into the AD plant. In addition state of the art laboratories for independent testing of materials are available and qualified staff can help trouble shoot and optimise equipment. In addition to its function as a research facility, the plant will divert more than 10 tonnes of food waste from landfill, save around 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and produce 8 tonnes of fertiliser each year.

In addition to the creation of the demonstrator facility, the Bio-Thermal RED project was also responsible for setting-up a knowledge and networking hub for SMEs in the East of England region involved in bioenergy.  Over the past  two years the Bio-Thermal RED project has been involved with a number of SMEs based in the East of England that are part of the renewable energy chain, by providing free project-based support and a number of topical workshops relevant to the AD and thermal renewable energy SME sector, combining Cranfield University’s world class expertise in biological and thermal engineering.

Projects carried out to date include work on the utilisation of new feedstocks for AD, engineering optimisation, feasibility studies and technology analyses. The workshops delivered so far have also covered a wide variety of topical subject, including finance and planning for AD, nutrient recovery and digestate management, biogas treatment and upgrading and thermal technologies for energy from waste. In addition to this various technology show case demonstrations, business-to-business networks and on-line support have also been delivered.


The outputs of this project so far resulted in:

  • The creation of 2 new jobs
  • Support to over 25 East of England SMEs involved in renewable energy
  • Delivery of over 65 innovation initiatives
  • Delivery of over 30 environmental initiatives

For more information contact:

Dr Raffaella Villa: or Dr Cecilia Fenech: