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AD flexibility is key to driving feedstock

Bill Elliot, business development director at Tamar Energy, considers the shape of future food waste arisings in the UK and what it means for AD infrastructure

According to the latest government figures, UK domestic food waste totals 7.2 million tonnes per annum and costs the economy £12 billion. However, domestic food waste accounts for only around 50% of total UK food waste. The potential for anaerobic digestion (AD) is clear - there is plenty of potential feedstock available across the country providing the opportunity to generate renewable energy, save money and reduce carbon emissions.

AD is gaining momentum and its electricity output increased 88% in 2012. However, it is not a short-term venture; each AD facility represents a significant financial investment and the industry must ensure that its plants are future-proofed to take into account potential changes in the feedstock market.

As population size continues to creep upwards, there are many initiatives to ensure that levels of domestic food waste do not grow, such as WRAP’s ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign. The Government has clearly laid out its strategy to move waste up the hierarchy, and it is reassuring to see AD central to this. 

Looking into the medium term, it would be circumspect not to consider that the available levels of municipal waste may alter, and plan accordingly.  However, this must be taken in context. Currently, only around 70 local authorities in England offer a separate food collection to domestic households. The figures are more encouraging elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but the fact remains that there is a huge amount of potential feedstock from domestic homes being wasted in landfill. A ban on organic waste to landfill would help; but this seems some way off after a House of Lords amendment to the Energy Bill instigating a ban was unsuccessful.

Waste from commercial and industrial (C&I) sources is another under-developed source of feedstock. The likes of commercial kitchens, hospitals and restaurants produce large amounts of usable feedstock that is currently untapped. Due to the nature of this waste, there are currently only in the region of 20 plants in the UK capable of taking C&I waste. This has led to a ‘chicken and egg’ situation in which operators are unable to secure financing for new plants due to a lack of feedstock, and waste contractors are unable to provide feedstock as there is nowhere within a reasonable distance to take the waste. Waste contractors need AD plants nearby that offer reliable, cost-effective solutions.

At Tamar Energy we are developing our plants in such a way that they can take a broad variety of ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ organic waste. This is achieved by building reception areas capable of taking delivery vehicles of varying shapes and sizes, and incorporating equipment that is sufficiently flexible to process changing feedstock. This is part of our five-year vision for a UK network of around 40 plants by providing unparalleled capacity, flexibility and the ability to react to fluctuations in feedstock supply nationally.

AD has a long-term role to play in the UK’s renewable energy and waste management strategies. Rather than speculate what happens if the feedstock supply diminishes in a particular location, perhaps the more pressing question is more how much can be achieved, and how quickly. That way, the Government can have the confidence that the infrastructure exists and ban organic waste to landfill, which in turn drives up feedstock availability nationwide.

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