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AstraZeneca's Remarkable £100 Million Deal: Tapping Biomethane from the Lincolnshire BECCS Endeavor

Image credit: Future Biogas

AstraZeneca has recently inked a monumental £100 million agreement with Future Biogas in a significant move within the pharmaceutical industry. The purpose? To secure a 15-year biomethane offtake deal. This deal, set to supply an impressive 100GWh of heat per annum, aims to meet the demanding energy requirements of three prominent UK pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.

What sets this partnership apart is its commitment to sustainability. Not only will it provide AstraZeneca with the necessary heat, but it also involves capturing and storing CO2 from the biogas plant under the North Sea, presenting a groundbreaking approach to carbon reduction.

The heart of this collaboration lies in Lincolnshire, where Future Biogas is diligently developing an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility. What makes it even more remarkable is the integrating of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system within this facility, promising to push the boundaries of sustainable energy production.

Expected to go operational in early 2025, this AD plant will pioneer the supply of domestic biomethane directly to the UK gas grid. This achievement will be accompanied by Renewable Gas Guarantee of Origin (RGGO) certificates transferred to AstraZeneca via a 15-year partnership agreement.

The impact of this venture is colossal. The entirety of the Grange Farm AD plant's output will be dedicated to heating AstraZeneca's manufacturing sites, including locations in Macclesfield, Cambridge, Luton, and Speke. Collectively, these sites require the heat equivalent of over 8,000 average UK homes, underlining the scale of this endeavor.

Beyond immediate benefits, this partnership is set to reduce AstraZeneca's greenhouse gas emissions by a substantial 20,000 tonnes annually. Simultaneously, it marks the debut of a fully commercial biomethane system in the UK, paving the way for broader adoption of low-carbon biogas in the country.

But what exactly is biomethane? It mirrors conventional methane gas used for heating homes, yet its source is renewable, derived from energy crops or food waste rather than fossil fuels. This distinction results in significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, aligning perfectly with AstraZeneca's ambitious goal to halve its entire value chain emissions by the decade's end and achieve net zero by 2045.

Juliette White, vice president for global sustainability, safety, health, and environment at AstraZeneca, said the £100m commitment demonstrated it was "serious about decarbonizing the discovery, development, and manufacture of medicines."

"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," she said.

Meanwhile, the AD plant is also set to be fitted with a bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) system, potentially enabling the 'carbon negative' operation of the facility by removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than that which is emitted in the process, according to AstraZeneca.

Furthermore, CO2 captured from the facility will be transported to Norway and stored under the North Sea, contributing to the Northern Lights CCS project, a joint venture between industry and the Norwegian government. This BECCS system can be developed independently of the AD plant and is anticipated to be operational by the mid-2020s.

The AD plant's fuel source is equally noteworthy. It will run on locally-grown bioenergy crops like maize, barley, and rye. Future Biogas emphasizes that these crops will be cultivated alongside a diverse range of agricultural produce using crop rotation systems and regenerative farming practices, promoting soil health and sustainable land management without compromising food production.

Philipp Lukas, CEO of Future Biogas, said the partnership demonstrated AstraZeneca's commitment to supporting its own and the UK's net zero transition but stressed that "the benefits of this project will also be felt more widely."

"The security provided by the long-term agricultural partnerships generated from this partnership incentivizes and supports the transition to regenerative land practices, aligning with agri-environmental policies and encouraging custodianship of UK soils," he explained. "Future Biogas expects this model to be adopted by many other innovative organizations with strong net zero ambitions."

AstraZeneca's commitment to sustainability extends beyond this partnership. They have also announced plans for a significant green retrofit of their Macclesfield campus. This includes upgrading the site's combined heat and power (CHP) plant, which is expected to save an additional 16,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. The company also plans to reduce emissions by enhancing energy efficiency in buildings and medicine packing facilities.

Juliette White explains that the 15-year biomethane agreement provides an immediate, efficient solution to reduce emissions from heating without major disruptions to manufacturing sites. While the partnership is a significant step, AstraZeneca remains open to exploring other clean heating systems in the future.

"If you actually look at how you continue to run a large-scale manufacturing site at the same time as doing a significant heat transition, actually biomethane is an available solution today, and it can be injected into the existing grid," she said. "It's a solution which you can execute at the same time as running a busy, operational site. Some other solutions require significantly more of what we would term 'disruption.'"

White added that the 15-year length of the partnership was "relatively short" compared to many typical heating deals in the energy sector and, therefore, did not rule out eventually switching to other suitable clean heating systems at its UK manufacturing sites in the future.

White, however, emphasized that biomethane stands as a pivotal solution in the quest to decarbonize heating. She pointed out that AstraZeneca's pioneering biomethane offtake agreement, resembling the corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) frequently entered into by companies to secure renewable electricity from sources like wind and solar farms, has the potential to serve as a blueprint for other British firms.

This offtake agreement is just one of several notable achievements for AstraZeneca on the global stage this year. These accomplishments include a partnership with Vanguard Renewables, aiming to provide biomethane to all of the pharmaceutical giant's facilities in the United States by the close of 2026. Additionally, AstraZeneca has entered into a PPA with Starkraft to ensure a supply of clean electricity in Sweden.

"Biomethane today offers a scalable solution for particularly high demand sites - such as for manufacturing - but there is, of course, a part to be played by all of the other solutions, whether it's air source or ground sourced heat pumps, or greater electrification," said White.

"I honestly think that an energy transition is about leveraging an entire ecosystem rather than doubling down and placing all bets on one or other solutions."

In conclusion, this groundbreaking partnership between AstraZeneca and Future Biogas addresses immediate energy needs and demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and innovation. It promises to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, and serve as a model for other organizations looking to embark on a similar path to a greener future.


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