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Anaerobic digestion plants in rural Wales: Social-spatial diffusion of technology, social acceptance and energy transition

The School of Geography and planning has hosted a prestigious COFUND Fellowship, held by Dr Stanislav Martinat to support his research on the spatial and social dynamics of anaerobic digestion (AD) plant development.

The research delivers applied social science research in support of Welsh Government strategic priorities for Low Carbon Economy and the Environment.

The project aimed to develop an enhanced understanding of the factors shaping AD plant development, by examining the social context of technology adoption. This has been achieved by analysing social-spatial patterns and regional differences in the development of AD plants across Wales, identifying enablers (success factors) and barriers to the more effective and less conflictual exploitation of the energy potential of biomass (like agricultural and household waste).

Particular attention was given to farmers’ understanding of AD plants, as part of the farming sector’s contribution to a zero energy transition, to develop an enhanced understanding of how AD expansion can fit into agricultural and rural change.


Early findings from the study have been published in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy, in the paper ‘Rich or Poor? Who actually lives in proximity to AD plants in Wales?’

Examination of the socio-demographics characteristics of the populations living close to AD plants, showed a tendency for such populations to be older, often in families without children, living in houses with limited central heating in neighbourhoods experiencing poor access to public services.

Understanding these patterns shapes our understanding of how AD facilities could contribute to the development of these communities, and foster more circular economies. Factors affecting the realisation of prospective benefits from farm-fed ADs include public sensitivities to development in these ‘rural idyll’ locations, and the economics of using AD to re-tool energy systems in more sparsely populated rural sites.

Further outputs from the research have covered the scope to better embed AD plants in their host setting, drawing on data from central Europe. Future outputs will include the study on the links between the change of feedstocks used in AD plants and sustainability, and better understanding of social and environmental factors behind the location of ADs.

Prior to arriving in Cardiff, Stanislav worked at the Institute of Geonics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Department of Environmental Geography, in Ostrava.


The project team

Dr Richard Cowell

Professor Richard Cowell

Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, Director of Research and Innovation


This research was made possible through the support of the following organisations: