Anaerobic digestion in the UK: remaining resilient in the face of uncertainty

Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA), sets out how the UK’s anaerobic digestion (AD) industry can thrive despite the uncertainties of Brexit and climate change

The real test of a resilient and sustainable industry is its ability to survive through tough times – and goodness knows we’re living through some turbulent and uncertain times at the moment. 

The future of the UK’s relationship with the European Union remains stubbornly unresolved, making it difficult for businesses and government to have the confidence to invest in crucial industries such as AD – other than in stockpiling parts to ensure existing AD plants can continue to operate no matter what happens. But even the impact of Brexit pales in comparison with the urgent warnings we are receiving about the need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Urgent action is needed to support industries that can make an immediate and significant contribution to decarbonising our economy. By treating wastes and producing renewable energy and natural fertiliser, AD is one such industry that is technology-ready and willing to make such a contribution, as well as being a fantastic export opportunity.

While the existing policy landscape is currently providing scant support for the many benefits that AD offers, there remains a wealth of opportunities to be seized. The replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy – assuming Brexit goes ahead – offers government the chance to recognise the vital role that AD can play in reducing emissions from farming, while the maintenance of the fuel duty differential will continue to make alternative fuels such as biomethane an increasingly viable option for bus and HGV fleet managers.

We are hoping for a long-overdue commitment to universal food waste collections in the Resources & Waste Strategy to allow England to catch up with the rest of the UK in recycling its inedible food waste through AD, and on the wastewater side deregulation may allow more opportunities for co-digesting food waste and sewage. And then of course there is the huge contribution that biomethane can make to decarbonising the UK’s gas grid.

It is, of course, also incumbent upon us as an industry to ensure that we are constantly looking to innovate to improve operational standards at AD plants in order to keep costs low and ensure we have support from stakeholders for the important work we do.

We’ll be discussing all of these issues at the ADBA National Conference 2018 next Tuesday (11th December), which will bring together politicians, policymakers, academics, AD operators, and businesspeople to explore the many opportunities that AD offers. Given its central role in tackling climate change and supporting the UK’s low-carbon economy, I believe that the UK AD industry can not only survive but thrive in the face of uncertainty – the need for green solutions to the many critically urgent challenges we face is one thing we can be sure of.

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