Plans for PS20m bracken biofuel plant unveiled; Demo event to show how bracken could be harvested from hillsides.
Byline: ANDREW FORGRAVE Rural Affairs Editor email@example.com
TALKS are continuing over the potential siting of a PS20m bioethanol plant in Gwynedd that would process bracken harvested from Welsh hillsides. Newtown-based Oakland Biofuels wants to develop a commercial facility in Blaenau Ffestiniog, creating up to 70 jobs, having patented the technology for converting bracken cellulose into bioethanol.
Following trials in Wales, Shropshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire in 2015, the harvesting process is now seen as viable and the company is keen to step up commercial production.
A pilot plant is being built in Lincolnshire which is due to start production in late October. This has a planned output of 3,000 litres of bioethanol per day from 10 tonnes of bracken shipped across from Wales.
A business plan is being considered by the Welsh Government as Oaklands looks to cement a research relationship with Bangor University.
On September 5, Oaklands is hosting a display of bracken harvesting machinery at Ysgubor, Dinas Mawddwy, courtesy of FUW members Dafydd and Mair Evans and their sons.
Farmers, landowners and conservation groups are invited to attend: even fire service chiefs are keeping a watching brief.
"As most wild fires are fuelled by bracken, fire brigades are very interested in our project," said Oaklands boss Jeremy Oakley.
"They are keen to look at anything that will reduce the ammunition for wild fires, especially at a time when their manpower is so stretched." The Oaklands project is being projected as an exercise in rural sustainability. Young farmers could get involved as harvesting contractors to remove vegetation that encroaches on grazing land and is costly to control, said Mr Oakley.
Bracken, which is widespread in Wales and is toxic to livestock, is notoriously difficult to manage, particularly on steep slopes. At a trial day in Dinas Mawddwy last year, Brielmaier machines, which resemble Allen scythes, were shown cutting two-metre stands of bracken with 90% success.
They will be back for this year's event, along with a Schiltrac vehicle - a specialist hillside pick-up machine from Switzerland - and a high density stationery baler from Norway. FUW Meirionnydd executive officer Huw Jones said: "The equipment is already in use on steep slopes in areas such as the German and Swiss Alps.
"Although not designed specifically to cut bracken, they have been shown to be effective on slopes of up to 60 degrees.
"Following successful trials in 2015, the machines went back to the Continent to be modified and are now ready to return.
"Some of the equipment can even be controlled remotely in order to minimise risks to farmers and contractors." A key target of this year's open day is to create baled and wrapped bracken that can be tested for bioethanol potential after 12 months in storage. The idea is to see what degree of deterioration, if any, occurs.
Private investors are already backing the project, with a further PS2m earmarked for harvesting and logistics equipment. Longer term, Oaklands hopes to move into the bio-pharmaceutical, bio-composite and biobutanol industries.
The demo is on Monday, September 5, 10am-4pm, at Ysgubor, Dinas Mawddwy, SY20 9LX. Details: biobracken firstname.lastname@example.org.