ADBA exclusive: UK’s anaerobic digestion industry will focus on boosting performance

The UK’s anaerobic digestion (AD) industry will concentrate on improving its environmental, operational and safety performance in an effort to move the sector forward, Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association’s (ADBA) CEO Charlotte Morton told Bioenergy Insight.

Morton’s comments came as she officially launched ADBA’s Best Practice Scheme for the AD sector at the UK AD & Biogas 2016 conference in Birmingham, which took place from 6-7 July.

The scheme is an industry-led certification scheme, involving stakeholders from across the sector. The project aims to help the industry improve its environmental, safety and operational performance.

In-house performance

Speaking to Bioenergy Insight, Morton said: “The more we can do to improve performance the less reliant we are on government incentives. So, that’s what we have to continue to do. The launch of the best practice scheme is something that should contribute to that. Improving performance through whatever means, whether that is through improving best practice, research and innovation or investment, is probably the one single thing that we can do on our own.

“There is so much that can be achieved. If you look at my lifetime in AD we have tripled the potential of the industry through looking at things like what research and development can offer, for example. This includes analyses of feedstock and improved performance, for example.”

Almost a third more biogas energy is being produced in the UK compared to this time last year, ADBA revealed at the UK AD & Biogas 2016 conference.

The AD Market Report, published at the event, shows that the UK now has 617MWe of biogas capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 800,000 homes.

Government subsidy cuts

The news of the sector’s development has been welcomed by the industry after it has recently faced government subsidy cuts and investment uncertainty. The industry’s growth has also recently slowed and will slow further in the next few years due to the latter issues, ADBA’s Market Report stated.

Although Morton said that the industry will have to look in-house to boost performance, she also said: “For the rest of it, we have to be dependent on government policy realising that the AD industry has a positive contribution to make to help meet global challenges.”

She added: “We just need the policies in place that will support it.”

The UK government has recently cut subsidies to small-scale on-farm AD. However, it has also recently committed to tackling climate change by launching its Fifth Carbon Budget.

Morton said that this was “very contradictory” because “AD is crucial to decarbonising farming”.

She said the government pledging to sign up to its Fifth Carbon Budget whilst cutting subsidies for on-farm AD was a “complete contradiction on what they (government) say they are going to do and what they actually do”.

Elsewhere, Morton said that the UK AD industry still faced very big challenges around feedstock supply, financial incentives and sustainability criteria. The availability of food waste is a key determinant of potential growth in AD.

She said that improved source-segregated food waste collections would enable the UK AD market to grow due to improved access to food waste.

Her comments come as waste agency WRAP has recently unveiled England's first comprehensive action plan for tackling food waste across the country.

The strategy, launched at the conference, contains a five-point plan for improving the collection and use of food waste. Every year the UK produces 10 million tonnes of "post-farm gate" food waste, but currently just 1.8 million tonnes are recycled. Wrap aims to substantially increase the level of recycling through the new action plan, which it claims will boost green energy industries and deliver carbon savings.

Speaking to Bioenergy Insight at the conference, trade group Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association’s (BBIA) managing director, David Newman, said the UK had to have firm AD policies whether it “was in or out of Europe”.

He added: “You need feedstocks if you are going to grow. All the waste associations in England should be pushing forward in a unified manner for an obligatory source-segregated food waste system, as they already have in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The fact that we are not pushing for this is incomprehensible.

“We have to get our act together and be unified so we can take a unified policy to Whitehall.”


Elsewhere at the conference, the implications of the UK’s referendum vote on leaving the EU was discussed. ADBA strategic advisor Chris Huhne said the UK’s AD sector will lose support from the EU’s renewable energy target and the EU’s Waste Directive is “also in the air”.

He also said that “fiscal weakness” will limit the capacity to fund the UKs renewable heat incentive (RHI). However, he did say that the Fifth Carbon budget was “something that the government agreed on” and showed that it was committed in tackling climate change.

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