Are Waste and Biosolids Anaerobic Digestion Plants Safe?
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Safety Concerns Raised After Lightning Strike Causes Explosion at Oxfordshire Food Waste Recycling Plant

Safety Concerns Raised After Lightning Strike Causes Explosion at Oxfordshire Food Waste Recycling Plant
An incident at a food waste recycling plant  in Oxfordshire has drawn attention to the safety of anaerobic digestion and biogas production. A lightning strike to one of the biogas tanks caused a huge explosion, sending an orange fire ball into the sky.  The
BBC reports that the blast occurred at the Severn Trent Green Power Plant (STGP), Cassington, north of Oxford.

Six fire engines and 40 firefighters attended the scene and paramedics were dispatched for standby, but no casualties were reported. 

The anaerobic digestion (AD) plant turns food waste into renewable energy that can be used to power homes and businesses. It can also be used to produce nutrient rich bio-fertilizers. The waste material for AD can also be obtained from the by-product of the sewage treatment process, which is known as biosolids.

Biosolids can produce flammable methane gas, which can create an explosive zone that is activated by incidents such as lightning strikes. Investigations are still ongoing to establish the exact cause of the Oxfordshire explosion.

Eyewitness Jack Frowde, 34, said: “I was sitting in my kitchen when the whole room lit up with a brilliant white light, then followed by a huge crack which sounded like really heavy thunder. I looked out of the kitchen window and it was as if the sky was pulsating orange. I ran to the back to capture the orange glow as it faded after about 20 seconds.”

Stuart Hosking, a business owner from Oxford, said: “We were pretty close. I thought it was the sun setting, until I saw the flickering and smoke. The lights flickered in the house then a flash, then a rumble like thunder, but a single bang.”

STGP said in a statement: “We’d like to thank the emergency services for their work overnight to contain and lead the incident at Cassington, where our plant was struck by lightning. Keeping our teams and the local community safe has been of paramount importance and we are relieved that no one has been hurt.”

“We will continue to work with the emergency services who are still on-site as we assess the damage and, while the fire is out, we urge people not to come to the site today.”

Three years ago an explosion at a Wessex Water wastewater treatment plant in Avonmouth killed four people and injured a fifth person. A silo that held treated biosolids exploded, and investigations into the cause are still ongoing. 

It is understood that the four victims were working with angle grinders on the roof of the silos when the explosion occurred, leading to speculation that a spark from the work could have ignited a build up of methane gas. 

Seven years ago a lightning strike incident caused a blast at the Agrivert biogas facility in Oxfordshire. This resulted in a major fire, but there were no casualties. 

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