Anaerobic digestion (AD) has come a long way since I first became involved almost eight years ago.
Then, it was unknown to most people beyond those treating sewage; today, there are 558 operational AD plants in the UK, generating enough energy to power more than a million homes. They recycle food waste, agricultural wastes, sewage and energy crops into renewable heat and power, green transport fuel and nutrient-rich biofertiliser.
There is plenty more potential for growth but a dearth of policy support.
The AD industry urgently needs the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to push on with the delayed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) legislation as soon as possible to ensure that new biogas and biomethane plants currently on hold can be built. We estimate that there may be as many as 15-20 projects in development that are waiting for the RHI legislation to be passed in order to receive their tariff guarantee and start construction.
With the sector currently operating at 80% capacity, there is huge scope for plants to take on more feedstock. For example, while 10 million tonnes of food waste is being produced in the UK, only a quarter of it is being recycled through AD.
If England was to follow Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in rolling out mandatory separate food waste collections, it would allow such waste to be turned into valuable products while also avoiding significant methane emissions from landfill.
AD operators are looking to lower their costs dramatically so the industry can become competitive with other energy-generating technologies – with the true cost of carbon still not being accounted for in many comparisons.
ADBA’s Best Practice Scheme will be a key tool in helping to raise performance across the industry. We are pushing for greater investment in research and innovation from the Government to bring about a step change in the rate of development of biotechnology.
Charlotte Morton is chief executive at Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA)