ADBA: UK risks missing carbon budgets unless AD is given Government backing

EXCLUSIVE: The UK Government must revise its policy approach to help companies realise the significant economic and environmental benefits of sending food waste to anaerobic digestion (AD), the industry's trade association has insisted.

Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of his edie Live appearance in May, Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) policy officer Thom Koller discussed his role in breaking down the major barriers to further expansion of the AD industry.

“There is a need for committed action from Government to bring more food waste into AD,” Koller said. “That is certainly something ADBA continues to lobby for heavily.”

ADBA has called for a removal of the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) 20MW deployment cap for AD plants, which Koller believes is constraining much-needed baseload capacity. Ministers recently moved to alleviate industry concerns with an industry consultation which implemented softer AD generation tariffs.

Koller welcomes the Government’s change of tack but remains concerned that the UK will miss upcoming carbon budgets unless further concessions are made.


He said: “Within the remit of what was up for consultation, we were broadly pleased that the Government had revisited their assumptions. They’ve listened to industry and AD developers and operators and realised that some of their assumptions were overly-optimistic.

“We were pleased to see higher tariffs for the two smaller bands and pleased that they hadn’t abandoned the generation tariff completely for plants 500KW-5MW. Beyond that, we remain committed to addressing the fact that FiT is restricted to 20MW a year. That really is the big constraint and it wasn’t addressed in the Government response.

“The urgency of meeting the Government’s carbon budgets requires a lot more effort towards decarbonisation measures and restricting the amount of small-scale AD and other technologies in the FiT is not the ideal approach to achieving those budgets.”

Progressive approach

Koller suggests the UK Government should take note of the “progressive” policy approach adopted by its Scottish counterparts, who have driven a sustainable change through the uptake of separate food waste collections by local authorities.

A ban on sending biodegradable municipal waste to landfill is due to come into force in Scotland on 1 January 2021, and Koller believes Scotland is ready for the anticipated increase in food waste feedstock that will follow.

He highlighted that the number of AD plants in Scotland has doubled to almost 50 in the past two years, with a similar number of plants already with planning permission approved, potentially doubling this number again over the next few years. This impressive progress must now be matched across the entire country, Koller said.

“There is a real positivity because the Scottish Government is taking a very progressive approach to dealing with food waste because households and businesses are having that separately recycled.

“There is a growing behavioural change and that is setting Scotland on a course to being able to meet this really ambitious target for 2021. When you have that perspective in mind for Scotland, and ask what is happening in England, it really shows the glacial progress we’re making to move towards that sort of approach.

“It’s regretful because it’s not just the direct AD industry that we think of in terms of AD plants. There is a real market in terms of biorefineries that can grow, and a variety of products and processes that can result from use of that waste material. As soon as that inedible food waste gets to AD, it’s no longer a waste, it’s a resource.”

Circular hallmark

With the right support, the biogas industry could deliver 250MW of new generation capacity over the next two years, according to ADBA – enough  to add 10% to a tight winter 2018 capacity margin and bring benefits to farming, recycling and the economy.

The wheels are already in motion to transform the sector; Britain now has almost 90 plants injecting green biomethane into the gas grid – nearly double the number in operation this time last year.

With 60% of the industry’s potential coming from food waste, Koller urges companies to realise the economic benefits of redistributing surplus food to AD. Indeed, of the estimated 600,000 tonnes of food waste disposed of by the UK hospitality sector alone, potential savings to the industry are estimated at around £724m per year.

“If all inedible UK food waste was sent to AD, that could produce 9TWh of energy,” Koller added. “That’s enough power to heat almost 900,000 homes. That’s an important contribution to setting the UK up as a hallmark of the circular economy approach to resources.

“There is also an economic argument that needs to be taken into account. Ultimately, it makes sense for the companies that are sending their food waste to AD, if they can sell it then they don’t pay for an AD plant to treat it.”

Suitable feedstocks

Businesses from a variety of sectors have become market leaders in sustainability and waste reduction through the uptake of AD projects in recent years. A partnership between Sainsbury’s and food waste recycling firm ReFood, for instance, saw the retailer supplied with almost 50GWh of biomethane in the past year. The programme helps to deliver Sainsbury’s commitment to send zero operational waste to landfill, by finding a use for inedible food waste.

Meanwhile, treatment solutions provider Clearfleau gained an edie Sustainability Leaders Award for its £10m on-site AD plant which is feeding bio-methane to the national gas grid. The facility will produce more than £3m in cost savings and revenue per annum, and supply up to 25% of the creamery’s energy requirements.

Looking ahead, Koller notes that available feedstocks such as garden waste, straw and biomass could all play a part in generating low-carbon energy needs for companies. He referenced green energy supplier Ecotricity, which has developed its own innovative technology for a grass-fed green gas mill, set be the first facility of its kind in the UK.

ADBA has discussed AD opportunities with organisations such as the RSPB, which is under a statutory duty to manage wetland areas, and want to be able to recover and return those nutrients to the soil.

“There is a huge range of feedstocks that are potentially suitable for AD,” Koller said. “We just need to make sure that the change to get those to AD plants is there.

“What we always encourage is for sustainability, so whatever feedstocks that are available that could go to AD, or those future potential feedstocks such as seaweed feedstocks. If those are proven to be viable then so long as they adhere to sustainability criteria, we would certainly support their use in AD plants. That’s something we certainly think is a real strength of the AD industry.”

Thom Koller at edie Live 2017

Thom Koller is among the expert speakers appearing on stage at edie Live 2017 at the NEC Birmingham on 23-24 May. 

Koller is appearing in the afternoon session of the Onsite Generation Theatre on Day 1 of the show, which takes a closer look at the potential for anaerobic digestion to ‘do the double’ by using food and organic waste to feed a companies’ energy needs.

Find out more about edie Live 2017 and register for your free two-day pass here.

George Ogleby

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