AD sector shows steady growth despite funding challenges

The number of anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities operating in England has risen to 110 this year compared to 68 in September 2011 while more than 200 additional projects have secured planning permission.

The latest figures, published in Defra’s 2012/13 annual report on its Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan, suggest that the sector has since steady growth despite a difficulty in securing funding.

First published in June 2011, the plan sets out 56 action points that aim to increase the uptake of AD in England by tackling the key barriers to growth, including finance and the removal of red tape.

A steering group monitors progress under the action plan and ensures that the actions remain relevant to the challenges that the AD sector faces.

According to Defra’s second annual report on progress, 32 of the actions have now been completed while a further 15 are being progressed towards completion by the end of this year, which is when Defra expects to complete the action plan. Eight actions are ongoing while one action will not be progressed further.

The action plan identifies eight major areas of work: improving understanding of the AD baseline; building UK skills; building safe and secure markets for digestate; raising awareness of AD; building markets for biomethane and transport fuels; AD in the rural community; finance; and regulation.

The report notes that finance remains a significant barrier. While the sector continues to grow, it remains highly fragmented and immature with most UK facilities having been operation for less than three years.

Critical factors for project success are feedstock selectivity; a deep understanding of, and access to local markets for digestate, dedicated operating personnel and active process management, the report found.

Even so, the past year has seen important progress across the sector. The report notes that there are now two operational AD plants in England designed to inject gas to grid.

Other highlights include the launch of a food waste portal that helps developers to identify and quantify potential feedstocks for AD; the publication of National Occupational Standards for anaerobic digestion; and the launch of the Anaerobic Digestion & Biogas Association’s Practical guide to AD, which provides detailed information to developers and operators on existing standards and industry best practice.

Nick Warburton

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