Pioneering carbon capture plant taking shape at United Utilities site

Construction begins at Mersey Biochar

Mersey Biochar, which aims to be the first carbon capture plant in the UK to provide low carbon heating to local buildings, is now under construction.

The facility, at Warrington’s Lingley Mere Business Park will lock away more than 2,500 tonnes of carbon a year into biochar, a versatile product with a range of uses from improving soil quality to decarbonising the construction industry.

Led by climate action organisations, Severn Wye Energy Agency and Pure Leapfrog, a consortium of experts, including Vital Energi and Pyrocore are behind the project, which is hosted by North West water and wastewater group United Utilities.

Capturing carbon and other greenhouse gases will be critical for the UK’s plans to meet net zero by 2050 and the Mersey Biochar pilot will help to strengthen UK expertise in this area.

Severn Wye CEO, Sandy Ruthven, said: “We are very excited to see work getting under way at Lingley Mere. To achieve net zero we must find creative ways of heating our homes and businesses. Mersey Biochar will help us prove we can generate energy, capture carbon and create biochar.”

Vital Energi’s Head of Pre-Construction, Warren Spiers, said: “As a company, we’re excited about the emerging technologies which will help lead the UK to its net zero targets. This is an important initiative as it takes a tried and tested technology and applies it in a new and innovative way,”

Mersey Biochar will capture carbon from green waste or ‘biomass’, in this case a byproduct of local forestry management which would otherwise release its carbon back into the atmosphere as it decays. Carbon is locked in through a process called pyrolysis, which heats the biomass in a virtually oxygen-free environment to produce biochar.

Every tonne of biochar produced can remove up to 3.6 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere and store it away for centuries. This facility is expected to produce 700 tonnes of biochar each year which will equate to more than 2,500 tonnes of carbon reduction.

Paul Gilligan, CEO of decarbonisation specialist partners, Pure Leapfrog, said: “As we continue along our planned product development pathway, we will see this unit, and more like it in the future, not just to capturing and storing carbon but also delivering clean heat to communities and providing energy services to the electricity grid. This technology has an exciting and valuable future.”

Once the facility’s carbon-capture capabilities are proven, the project also aims to be the first of its kind in the UK to recycle the heat generated from biochar production to heat and power United Utilities’ buildings on the site, part of the company’s long term sustainability goals.

United Utilities Bioresources and Green Energy Director, Tom Lissett, said: “This innovative technology opens up the opportunity to decarbonise our office heating requirements at Lingley Mere using the heat created during the pyrolysis process. It is an important step forward for us in our journey to decarbonising our head office in Warrington.”

Mersey Biochar is funded by the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero through their Direct Air Capture and Greenhouse Gas Removal innovation programme, established to find new and inventive ways of reducing UK carbon emissions.

Industry experts PyroCore supplied the first elements of the plant in November. The facility is being built by energy specialists Vital Energi and expected to be in operation at the end of the summer.