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University of York and Yorkshire Water team up to produce energy from waste

Posted on 14 August 2019

University of York researchers will be working in partnership with Yorkshire Water to optimise next-generation anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities.

Professor James Chong (left) demonstrates the System 60 facility to Yorkshire Water’s Ben Roche (centre) and Richard Kershaw.

Anaerobic digestion is the process of turning organic waste into biogas which can be used to generate heat and electricity and is seen as an essential part of meeting renewable energy needs, as well as reducing waste.

Yorkshire Water (YW) has funded ‘System-60’, a brand-new set of 60 five-litre automatically fed, temperature controlled anaerobic digesters in the Department of Biology at the University of York.

The system will be officially opened on Wednesday 14 August and will provide data enabling YW to ‘fine-tune’ its entire AD fleet.

System-60 is specifically built for the project and is likely to be the largest AD facility of its kind anywhere in the world.


As well as partnering with YW, the project involves collaboration across the University. Custom-made sensor equipment has been designed and built by the Biology Mechanical and Electronics Workshop and specially developed software has been written by undergraduates from the Department of Computer Science.

University researchers will be managing System-60 on campus, in addition to monitoring Yorkshire Water’s recently refurbished pilot AD facility located at the nearby Naburn Waste Water Treatment works.

Professor James Chong from the Department of Biology is leading the research. He said: “The goal of the project is to increase the conversion of solid material into gas so that more sewage sludge can be processed using the same facilities, reducing the need to build more infrastructure.

“System-60 will be used to screen conditions and the pilot rig will then be used to demonstrate the benefits of the best conditions at a larger scale to build a case for operational changes within YW's business.”


Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of York, Professor Deborah Smith, highlighted the originality of this project - part of the BioYork initiative - that will use the University’s world class research and knowledge base to drive the development of UK bio-based industries to deliver growth, jobs and environmental benefits.

She said: “Today’s launch of System-60 consolidates the exciting work that has been developing between the University and YW over the last two years following the award of a Royal Society Industry Fellowship to Professor Chong to work with Yorkshire Water. Given the global drive to develop new approaches to the generation of renewable energy, there could not be a more important time to be launching this project in the heart of Yorkshire. We are delighted to be working closely with YW to deliver outcomes that will impact on our local and national communities.”


Professor Chong added: “The water industry has recognised that what ends up in the sewer is a wasted bioresource. Access to System-60 and the pilot rig at Naburn, paired with state-of-the-art analytical facilities available at the University of York, present an amazing opportunity for us to understand the microbiological basis of anaerobic digestion. YW has demonstrated long-term vision in the potential of AD by investing in these ground-breaking facilities and by providing us with exceptional access to their AD operations.

“I’m very excited about the potential to improve AD efficiency and resource recovery through the insights these facilities and our ongoing collaboration with YW will allow us to develop.”


Dr Phillip Blaen, from YW’s Innovation team, said: “Yorkshire Water treats around 150,000 tonnes of sewage sludge each year. The results from this ambitious collaborative project will have immediate and sustainable benefits for our organisation. These will contribute significantly to our ambitions to drive anaerobic digestion efficiencies at our treatment sites, boost levels of renewable energy production, and provide our customers with value for money.”