ADBA Chief Executive talks pushing Number 10 and anaerobic digestion future

With the dearth of subsidies and volatile political environment, Charlotte Morton shared her views on what lay ahead for the UK’s anaerobic digestion (AD) industry.

Of the ten million tonnes of food waste a year in the UK, six million is ‘avoidable waste’. With the government goal of being zero avoidable waste by 2050, Charlotte Morton still sees a place for anaerobic digestion (AD) in a future, minimum-waste society. We will never be waste-free, so AD will be relevant and increasingly so for places that can supply and benefit from AD facilities, like farms.

However, the present political environment has not favoured AD and with Brexit obstructing any other policy considerations and making the UK less attractive to investors, the industry has to be thinking about viability without such a supportive framework from the government.

“You’re talking about subsidies for an industry that produces green energy and green fertiliser. In the last Autumn Statement, billions were promised to the fossil oil and gas industry. Why are we still subsidising industries that are damaging our environment—damaging our climate—but we’re not wanting to subsidise green as if it’s a bad thing? If we had a proper carbon price we would not need a subsidy and oil and gas would.”

 “If a reasonable amount of investment went into R&D for the AD sector we could absolutely transform the viability of the sector and we’d have no need for subsidies, even in the absence of a carbon price.”

An ADBA spokesperson said that in collaboration with UK universities they estimated that an investment of £50 million over 5-7 years in a centre to develop AD technology would be enough to deliver on a promise of exporting equipment and expertise worth £5bn per year. They also said that the advances made would allow AD to become independent of subsidies.

A shift in mentality is needed according to Morton. She hopes that the government will be forward facing rather than doing whatever is politically expedient, by investing in industries over the long-term with long-term expectations and sustainability. In a November meeting with the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser on the Environment, Sir John Randall at 10 Downing Street, she emphasised the need for renewed RHI regulations and the need for the investment detailed above. Mandatory separate food waste collection by local authorities in England was also on the agenda.

“The challenge we’ve got here is that climate change and the environmental agenda never gets high enough on people’s lists of priorities to have an impact on the policies that politicians set forth as part of their manifestoes […] Yes, educating the general public about the technology and the benefits it’s going to deliver would be a good thing, but whether that would result in more MPs supporting the industry because their constituents do so, I’m not sure.”

Government has some legislation in the pipeline, but the ADBA chief wants to see more specificity, something the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has struggled with to date: “The Industrial Strategy, the Clean Growth Strategy, the Bioeconomy Strategy, all these strategies are going in the right direction. But […] they are aspirations, they are indicators of travel. We need to see the detail. We need to see policies in place that will actually deliver support for the sector and get the industry growing again so that we can contribute to delivering the [carbon] goals the UK government has got.”


This article was written by Luke Acton, assistant editor of Bioenergy Insight 

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