Focus: Interview

Reg Tucker

Renewable Energy focus magazine caught up with Tristan Fischer, CEO of renewable energy developer Lumicity Ltd. Topics included Lumicity’s massive project to retrofit biomass heating systems for Bernard Matthews’ turkey farms as well as the general benefits of biomass heat.

At the beginning of 2014, Lumicity was given the task of rolling out the largest biomass order for a single counterparty in the UK for Bernard Matthews, Britain’s number one turkey producer with about 65 per cent of the UK market. Financing for this £24.5m investment is being provided by Equitix and the UK Green Investment Bank, with no capital cost for Bernard Matthews.

In this interview, Tristan Fischer talks about details of the Bernard Matthews project as well as future projects Lumicity is working on. 

Q: The biomass rollout project at Bernard Matthews is currently the largest such project in the UK. How did it come about, and what is the exact scope?
A: Lumicity had been working on the initiative for about 18 months and approached Bernard Matthews about the idea. They had previously been using LPG, but were already generating energy from other renewable sources, including solar and wind, and had set themselves the goal to be generating 100 per cent of their energy sustainably by 2016. The biomass heating systems will make a major contribution towards achieving this goal.
The scope of the project is for 179 biomass package plant rooms boilers due to be installed across 21 of Bernard Matthews’ turkey farms in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Lincolnshire, with a total of 248 poultry sheds. The combined output of all systems will be equivalent to 30MW of heat energy. So far 112 units have been installed, and the remaining systems will be operational by the end of October 2014.
Q: Who’s financing the project and who owns what?
A: Lumicity advised Bernard Matthews throughout the process of tendering and negotiating and sourced the funding - £24.5 million from the UK Green Investment Bank’s Energy Saving Investments fund, which is managed by Equitix. We used the money to identify the sites and design, build and maintain the boilers and pay a peppercorn rent for leasing land next to the turkey sheds, where the boilers are installed. Equitix retains ownership of the assets throughout and also receives all the income from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which is guaranteed for the next 20 years, while Lumicity will continue to manage the project for the duration of the RHI.
Q: So, what’s in it for Bernard Matthews? What savings can they expect?
A: Bernard Matthews previously used liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as a fuel, for which they were paying about £3.3 million per year. Switching to biomass heating systems will lead to savings of about 50 per cent. The boilers will initially be powered by wood chip and wood pellets, but due to a change in the European Waste Incineration Directive (WDI), it is likely that Bernard Matthews will also be able to mix in turkey litter, which would further reduce fuel bills and cut the cost of transport to dispose of the turkey litter.

There are also some animal welfare benefits, as the dry heat biomass systems result in 35% humidity for wood chip compared to 65% humidity for LPG. That’s better for the birds and better for the farmer, as it improves the feed conversion ratio. And there is another benefit: the biomass heating systems help to reduce a farmers’ carbon footprint, which in turn means improved competitiveness, as supermarkets demand increasing amounts of “green” energy in the supply chain. Biomass is a renewable energy which can be carbon neutral, as the CO2 emitted by burning the biomass is absorbed when the next crop grows. 
Q: What are the typical energy cost savings for the farmers?
A: It depends on several factors, e.g. what type of fuel the farmers used prior to installing a biomass heating system. If they used LPG (as Bernard Matthews did), it depends on the price they paid for LPG, and the price they will pay for wood chip to fuel the new biomass heating system. Lumicity’s biomass systems are all bespoke, but savings are typically between 25% and 50% compared with LPG.
Q: Could the project concept work on a smaller scale?
A: Yes, of course – whether it’s 1 shed or 1,000 sheds, Lumicity provides a fully funded, bespoke solution, helping farmers to finance the scheme over a number of years. In Bernard Matthews’ case, Lumicity built on economies of scale, but smaller farms could equally benefit from the financial and environmental benefits of this technology.
Q: Is there scope to expand the project concept to other areas or technology types? E.g. boilers for grain drying or solar/wind to power refrigeration?
A: Absolutely. That’s why Lumicity is already working on energy efficient poultry sheds which will have the lowest environmental foot print per bird, the best bird welfare and the highest Feed Conversion Rate in the country. These sheds will incorporate LED lighting, heat recovery systems, solar panels and biomass heating systems. Lumicity will be providing the capital to build these sheds and this is a very attractive proposition to both the large producers and contract farmers, who make up the bulk of the market.
Founded in 2010 by clean technology entrepreneur Tristan Fischer, Lumicity Ltd is a renewable energy company that designs, develops and finances solar, wind and biomass energy projects. The company sources funding for these projects and to date has secured over £100 million for its farming customers to build these projects on their land.

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