Odour is one of the key concerns that the South Galway communities have regarding the proposed Biogas mega-plant in Gort. Should it really be a concern though? The Current Environment Impact Assessment thinks it won’t be but lets look at how the sister company is performing and Biogas plants in general.
Ballybofey Biogas Plant
The Gort Biogas plant will be the bigger ‘sister plant’ of the Ballybofey plant so it is good to see how these are faring in how they operate – (Hint – it doesn’t look good). Lets take a look at how they are managing (or mismanaging) their odor control. According to the current Gort Biogas EIAR the following are some of the key steps in managing odour.
- Odour control is done by having negative pressure inside the feedstock area so that foul air (think fish-heads) doesn’t escape. The air extracted from the Feedstock Reception Building will be treated in a Carbon Filter Bed system prior to being exhausted through a 22m high stack. (Note- Positive pressure means the smells escape ‘locally’ without being treated)
- There will be no emissions to atmosphere from the AD tanks.
- The combustion of biogas in the CHP Gas Engine will destroy any odorous compounds contained in the biogas prior to being exhausted through another 22m high stack.
Non-complaint Biogas Plant
In Glenmore Biogas Plant in Ballybofey, to keep negative pressure the odour control system was designed to emit 13,488m3/hr at a particular ‘smell’ concentration 1,000 ouE/m3.
From the EPA Report carried out on the Glenmore Biogas Plant in March 2018.
- There was no flow metre in place to demonstrate the volume being emitted from the order stacks .This has not been in place at any stage since the facility started operating. This is a non-compliance with license.
- The odour control system was actually installed to emit 27,000 m3/hour, which is over twice the emission limit value specified in the licence. This is a non-compliance with license.
- Odour monitoring carried out in September 2017 demonstrated a non-compliance (1,261 Oug/m3) with the emission limit value specified in the license of 1,000 Oug/m3 for odour. This is a non-compliance with license.
- The odour test programme required by licence had not been completed to date despite the licence requiring that this be done within three months of the commencement of operation of the abatement equipment. This is a non-compliance with license.
- The requirement to demonstrate negative pressure and reception building envelope integrity not been achieved. This is a non-compliance with license.
- A programme for the identification and reduction of fugitive emissions has not been prepared. This is a non-compliance with license.
There are a number of observations to be made here.
- The requirements for keeping negative pressure in the feedstock (e.g. fish-heads) are were under engineered i.e. 13,488m3/hr at a particular ‘smell’ concentration 1,000 ouE/m3. They now say they need twice that.
- Without any planning or analysis, they installed a system that spewed out twice the volume/hour and even then, they were still at times going 20% over their limit of 1,000 ouE/m3.
- Even then, they could not demonstrate that they had negative pressure in the reception buildings.
- There were over 20 ‘official’ complaints of odour in 2017 – with July 2017 getting almost half the complaints. This was supported by official odour testing confirming that Odours exceeded licence parameters.
- There are many local stories of bad smells in the area coming from the biogas plant including a school that had to keep its pupils indoor due to the smells.
From the start, the odour control of the Glenmore plant has never been EPA compliant, in fact it breaks many aspects of EPA license on odour and it looks as if it is having an impact on the community
The Glenmore Biogas plant and the proposed Gort Biogas plant reeks of poor design and boilerplate EIA checkboxing – It’s obvious that not only do these analysis and proposals not work and that they then need to be redesigned – but at what cost and impact to local community.
This EIAR is flawed and so too are the checks and balances that supposedly protect us. The Glenmore Biogas plant’s has been non-compliant since commission and obviously has odour problems and their get-out-of-jail card is to apply for a license to pump more smelly air into the atmosphere – with the same faulty analysis as before.
Odour, Odour Everywhere!
According to report by Bioenergy research, 11 Biogas plants were studied and found to have had odour complaints. A summary of these is listed here:
Considering the addition of potentially 3-4 times the amount of digistate being added to lands in the vicinity of the plant this would have a significant impact on the smells and the welfare of people and tourists coming into the area.
According to a very recent article – Over the last 8 year Over the last eight years, 85% of the 964 plants surveyed by FM BioEnergy in the UK and Germany were suffering from biogas leakage. 
- A quarter of these were deemed ‘significant’ in terms of their leakage (>1,000l CH4/h), causing serious safety concerns and financial losses.
- Half of them had only minor leakages (< 100l CH4/h) while
- The rest were deemed ‘medium’ (< 1,000l CH4/h). In most cases, more than one type of leakage was present.
That’s over 20% of surveyed biogas plants, over 200 of them are spewing out 1,000 litres of methane an hour in leaks. This doesn’t bode well for a Biogas developments with a poor trackrecord.
The report highlights two impacts
Aside from the considerable environmental impact, biogas leaks bring other risks. In the worst-case scenario, biogas in combination with air can form an explosive gas mixture which, in a confined space near an ignition source, can result in explosion. While explosions are extremely rare, they bring a high risk of serious injuries and fatalities and, as a result, are something no plant owner ever wants to experience on their site.
Biogas also contains hydrogen sulphide (H2S), a toxic gas which has been the cause of several deaths in the UK agricultural industry in relation to slurry tank management. As H2S is heavier than air, it will fall to the ground. In confined, poorly ventilated spaces it can accumulate and remain unnoticed until someone enters, resulting in sometimes fatal effects.
The impacts of poor air quality would have a devastating affect on this area.
While it has an ‘agricultural’ tag – Biogas are chemical plants that produce harmful byproducts. Even with huge amounts of experience – the UK and Germany are struggling to engineer good Biogas plants and globally there are more accidents happening more frequently. There is little doubt that Biogas need to be designed and run by experts, otherwise the results can be catastropic and fatal. When it comes to odour management, the results may not be fatal to humans but can be fatal to a fledgling local rural economy that is hoping to make it’s presence known as part of a Wild Atlantic Way spur and as a great place to work, live and visit. Just looking at the track record of the Sister company Glenmore Biogas in Ballybofey is nerve-racking and their substandard Environemental Impact Assessment Report is a warning bell that South Galway will become yet another Guinea-pig for an flawed ‘Green’ solution – to its detriment.
Please , for the sake of your local community, lodge an objection with Galway County Council or come along to Sullivan’s Hotel from 7pm-9pm Thu 2nd January, to sign an objection letter and stop our community being subjected to this threat, once and for all.
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