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AD schemes on target to deal with growth in feedstock

The expansion of anaerobic digestion (AD) plants is in line with Defra’s predictions that five million tonnes of food waste will be available for feedstock in England by 2020, according to a new report.

The study from international bio-economy consultants NNFCC analysed the UK AD industry on a plant-by-pant basis to provide evidence for investors and developers in the sector.

Defra’s AD action plan, published in 2011, said it was a “reasonable expectation” that five million tonnes of food waste would be available for AD in England by 2020.

It also said that separate weekly collections of food waste were provided to just three million households, out of 22.5 million in England. A gradual increase in separate collections would increase available feedstock for AD.

Dr Michael Goldsworthy, NNFCC consultant told MRW: “If 50% of those plants (in the pipeline) become operational, in terms of food waste we are in line with the Government’s AD strategy.

“That would be consistent with the fairly linear development we’ve seen in the last year or two.”

It should be noted that NNFCC’s study was UK-wide, but Goldsworthy said AD capacity is dominated by England and so the report figures are relevant to Defra’s strategy, which is for England only.

The report found that AD plants currently require around 1.5 million tonnes of food waste a year.

It said if every plant in the development pipeline came into fruition then the cumulative feedstock requirement would be 5.5m tonnes of food waste, by 2017.

But the NNFCC said only around 30-50% of plants in pipeline are expected to complete.

Jeremy Tomkinson, chief executive officer of NNFCC, said: “With almost 350 projects planned, the development pipeline remains strong.

“Access to finance remains difficult, largely on account of risks surrounding feedstock supply security. In this climate, understanding the state of AD deployment in the UK is crucial for policymakers, developers and investors alike.”

Resources minister Dan Rogerson announced in Parliament last week that Defra intends to publish a further report on the implementation of the AD Strategy and Action Plan later this year.

MRW sought industry views on the future of AD capacity and what portion of planned AD plants were likely to come to fruition:

Mick Fishwick, chief executive officer of TEG

“It is not unusual for there to be a frenzied level of development activity in the waste sector that comes to little and I would share the view that the percentage of projects reaching fruition is usually pretty low. A lot of developers see the waste market as a pot of gold and then realise funding and executing these projects is a major challenge. 

“TEG is very confident there is a lot of room, and need, for new capacity for several years to come. Overcapacity is a long way away.”

Willie Heller

William Heller, Tamar Energy chief executive

“Rather than overcapacity, the AD sector may be facing the reverse problem: Changes to the Feed-in-Tarriff regime make the economics borderline for many small scale projects.

“Deploying large-scale AD plants is a complex, time-consuming process requiring careful management of a wide range of economic drivers; it is only experienced companies, in a position to leverage economies of scale, put in place multiple feedstock sourcing arrangements and implement comprehensive digestate solutions, that will be able to move projects through development to operation and financing.”

Harry Waters, Agrivert commercial director

“The increase in capacity in the UK market is greatly welcomed. Without the capacity it is impossible to recycle food which still represents one of the largest and most damaging materials being sent to landfill.

“However, developers will need to be careful where they build plants. Regional overcapacity could be possible if everything planned were to be built.”

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