THOUSANDS of apples grown on Farmcare's Herefordshire fruit farms are to be used to generate green electricity.
Farmcare, part of the Co-operative Group, has joined with other local growers to support the establishment of a new company called Coressence, which will enable excess cider fruit to be converted into pure alcohol, which in turn can be processed to produce electricity.
It is hoped the scheme will save an estimated 360,000 fruit trees that would otherwise have been dug up and burnt over the next three years due to an over-supply of fruit.
William Barnett, who runs Farmcare's Tillington Fruit Farms, explained that fruit trees had been grown for cider production, but reduced demand meant alternative uses for the fruit were now being sought.
"The trees would have been grubbed," he said. "But as fruit growing is such a major industry in Herefordshire it would have had huge impact on the landscape if we'd lost them all."
The new company, Coressence, established with the full support of Farmcare and the Herefordshire Cider Fruit Growers' Association, is now charged with developing the green electricity project to a stage where a business can take it on and begin turning apples into power.
"In all there's about 36,000 tonnes of surplus apples in the county, and we think they can be used to generate a significant amount of electricity – enough to power a small town," said Mr Barnett.
The excess apples, and other sugar-producing crops such as pears, can be turned into pure alcohol known as bio-ethanol.
The bio-ethanol can then be combusted in a gas turbine heat and power unit, which produces electricity which can be exported to the national grid.
"We needed to find another use for the fruit if we were to secure the future or many of Farmcare's orchards, as well as those of other Herefordshire growers," he said.
"Coressence can help us achieve that, and the scheme has a lot of support from organisations like Herefordshire Council and the National Farmers' Union. It's a very exciting idea."