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Report calls for expansion of anaerobic digestion sector
The government is not realising the full potential of biogas, the independent thinktank, CentreForum, has said in a report due to be published tomorrow (4 July ).
The study, entitled ‘Hit the gas: how to get the anaerobic digestion sector moving’, seeks to emphasise the advantages that would come with the expansion of the sector by identifying and offering solutions to six main problems.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) works by placing organic matter in sealed tanks and encouraging the microorganisms naturally present to feed on it. In the absence of air, the microorganisms produce methane (a biogas), which can then be used to provide renewable energy. At present, anaerobic digestion produces in the region of 1.3 terrawat hours (TWh) of energy in UK – enough to power 300,000 homes. The report argues that, with the proper support, this could be expanded by more than 800 per cent over the next eight years to benefit the equivalent of around 2.5 million homes (11 TWh).
‘Hit the gas’ also hopes to place greater pressure on the government to readdress the way it supports the sector. One of the report’s authors, Quentin Maxwell-Jackson, explained: "Anaerobic digestion technology has so many clear advantages over other waste treatment and energy generation options that it is very surprising it has not taken off in a big way yet in the UK. But that is because trying to get an anaerobic digestion scheme up and running at the moment is like trying to win a cycle race with the brakes on."
The report’s co-author, Thomas Brooks added: "There are some simple things government can do to release the brakes on anaerobic digestion. For instance, simply banning organic waste to landfill in England, as they are already planning to do in Scotland, would give anaerobic digestion a huge boost."
This is one such recommendation made in the report. At present, waste treatment anaerobic digestion plants often struggle to secure long-term supply contracts for feedstock. Compared to Wales, where 82 per cent of households are provided with separate food waste collection, only 13 per cent of English households receive a similar service. According to CentreForum, by moving to ban all food waste being sent to landfill in England by 2020, the government can ensure that there is ample feedstock supply for plants to work with.
The report also calls for greater clarity of policy to ensure developers receive the support available to them, and questions the government’s apparent opposition to purpose grown crops. Focusing on the underdeveloped state of the digestate market, it invites regulations to be amended to support farm cooperatives using the technology, in addition to providing greater education about the benefits of digestate among farm end-users and supermarket buyers alike.
Responding to the report, Edward Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said: "The government is committed to promoting an increase in energy from waste schemes through anaerobic digestion. CentreForum's report offers some interesting ideas for how this increase can be achieved.”
At present, there are 27 farm-based plants in the country - a figure that the NFU argues could be raised to a target of 1,000 by 2020 - but ‘Hit the gas’ cites only two as being currently connected to the gas grid, despite this being the most efficient use of biogas. It calls for steps to be taken to tackle the incumbent cost and regulatory complexity of making grid connections in order to allow wider use of biogas in this way. Addressing the issue of financing for developers, ‘Hit the gas’ also appeals to the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA), to provide clearer guidelines to developers and future funders alike, advising of financial risks and how to manage them.
Lord Redesdale, Liberal Democrat peer, former Energy Spokesman for the party and the chairman of the ADBA, said: “By leading the world in waste treatment through anaerobic digestion, the UK could create export markets which support tens of thousands of jobs in manufacturing and other sectors. Anaerobic digestion will also be central to the future of sustainable food production, by recycling critical nitrates and phosphates back to land and providing economic support to the farming industry."
He added: "As CentreForum have clearly shown, realising all those benefits requires action from government - a ban on biodegradable waste to landfill, more source segregation of waste, sensible support for the use of purpose grown crops, and funding from the green investment bank. We look forward to working on all of these areas and more over the coming year."
‘Hit the gas: how to get the anaerobic digestion sector moving’ is available to download from the CentreForum website.
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