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AstraZeneca and Future Biogas sign novel offtake deal

AstraZeneca and Future Biogas sign novel offtake deal
An aerial view of AstraZenca's Discovery Centre in Cambridge, UK (photo courtesy Hufton + Crow).

In a first-of-its-kind arrangement, UK-headed global biopharmaceutical major AstraZeneca plc has signed a long-term green gas sales agreement (GSA) with compatriot biogas producer Future Biogas Ltd as part of its efforts to reduce Scope 1 emissions.

Biomethane (aka renewable natural gas – RNG), represents the most immediately available and viable solution for low-carbon heat demand. It is ready to use, compatible with all existing infrastructure, and its combustion is carbon neutral.

According to a statement, AstraZeneca has agreed to a 15-year partnership with Future Biogas to establish the UK’s first unsubsidized industrial-scale supply of biomethane and is investing in major energy efficiencies in its operations, totaling a commitment of GBP100 million.

Energy from the planned RNG facility will supply AstraZeneca’s sites in Macclesfield, Cambridge, Luton, and Speke with 100 GWh per annum, equivalent to the heat demands of over 8,000 average UK homes.

A blueprint deal

Once operational in early 2025, the partnership will reduce emissions by an estimated 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq), adding renewable energy capacity to the national gas grid.

The anaerobic digestion (AD) facility and long-term partnership with Future Biogas provide a blueprint for wider commercial adoption of renewable gas in the UK.

A dynamic biomethane market is seen as crucial to the UK achieving net zero.

Today’s commitment of £100 million shows we are serious about decarbonizing the discovery, development, and manufacture of medicines and securing a sustainable future for our sites across the UK and globally. In leading from the front on the commercial adoption of clean heat, we are innovating to expand the usage of renewable energy, contributing to the circular economy and accelerating our progress towards net zero, said Juliette White, VP of Global Sustainability & Safety, Health & Environment at AstraZeneca.

Major biomethane player in the UK

Founded in 2008, Future Biogas is one of the UK’s largest producers of biomethane, injecting over 500 GWh of green gas into the grid each year.

At present, Future Biogas operates 12 large-scale AD plants, primarily located across the East and North-East of England.

Of these plants, eleven focus on the production of biomethane, injecting it into the UK gas grid while one AD plant site provides renewable power to supply an RAF base in East Anglia via private wire.

By sleeving the gas through the grid, biomethane can be delivered directly to AstraZeneca, and its carbon savings can be robustly tracked from production to use.

AstraZeneca’s ground-breaking investment in green gas affirms its status as a global leader in the transition to net zero. The opportunity to combine unsubsidized biomethane production with regenerative farming benefits local farms and supports the growing focus on soil health and sustainable food production. Future Biogas expects this model to be adopted by many other innovative organizations with strong net zero ambitions, commented Philipp Lukas, CEO of Future Biogas.

Stimulate co-production of food and energy

UK farms and sustainable land management sit at the heart of this gas supply agreement. The production of biomethane will support farms in their transition to more regenerative practices.

Bioenergy crops will be grown as part of diverse rotations, including food crops, cover cropping, and providing opportunities for companion cropping.

This co-production of food and energy offers multiple environmental benefits – increasing crop yields, reducing the demand for pesticides and herbicides, enriching biodiversity, and improving soil health – while decarbonizing food and energy systems.

The wider use of regenerative farming techniques, such as minimal tillage, and cover crops ensures that only the most sustainable crops are supplied for biomethane production.

Biofertilizer and CCS

In addition, carbon-rich biofertilizer, known as digestate, displaces the need for artificial fertilizers and replenishes soils with organic matter which is, again, essential for healthy soil and its ability to act as a carbon sink.

Future Biogas's Oak Grove Renewables plant in Scottow, Norfolk is a 2 MWe plant and the first in the UK to deploy a Triogen Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) unit to utilise waste heat from the gas engines to electricity.
Future Biogas’sOak Grove Renewablesplant in Scottow, Norfolk is a 2 MWe plant and the first in the UK to deploy a Triogen Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) unit to utilize waste heat from the gas engines to electricity.

Overall, Future Biogas is targeting the growth of ‘carbon neutral’ crops, whereby carbon sequestration in soils outweighs any carbon emissions derived from the crops’ cultivation.

Moreover, Future Biogas will capture biogenic CO2from the biogas production process and transport it for permanent geological storage. This process delivers greenhouse gas (GHG) removals – actively reversing emissions.

Future Biogas is also leading the development of Project Carbon Harvest – a venture to design and operate the next generation of AD plants delivering Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

This Project will operate without direct government subsidy, where GHG removal credits can replace income historically provided by support schemes such as the Feed-in Tariff (FIT), Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), and the Green Gas Support Scheme (GGSS).

The opportunity, the company says, is to build over 25 new plants within the next decade.

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