UK AD capacity grows 55% in 2013
Anaerobic digestion (AD) enjoyed a bumper year in the UK according to the latest sector survey published today (11 November) by WRAP, but Scotland did not contribute to the growth.
The number of AD sites in the UK has increased from 87 to 117, while capacity increased by 55% to 3.20mt. This operational growth has led to a boost to employment in the sector - up 36% to 482 full-time jobs.
Ian Wardle, head of organics and energy at WRAP, said: "It's fantastic to see such positive results from this survey. The industry is turning a wide variety of wastes into valuable renewable energy and digestate that can be used by farmers as a fertiliser.
"Each year we are seeing the sector grow and this year's data shows the AD industry is starting to make a marked contribution to the UK economy. Industry has always supported this survey and this year's excellent response is testament to that."
Food manufacturers and processors provide the biggest proportion of the feedstock, although the volume of material sourced from local authority collections, has increased by more than a third.
Aside from producing energy and effectively disposing of waste, the amount of digestate fertiliser produced by AD surpassed one million tonnes last year - 98% of which was sent to agricultural land.
The impressive statistics support the argument made by former energy secretary Chris Huhne last week, when he said AD will help the UK to keep its lights on and provide energy security. In particular, Huhne - who is now a strategic advisor at ADBA - said that the consistent nature of AD gave it an inherent advantage over wind and solar power.
GRAPH: Cumulative number of AD facilities in the UK
ADBA's chief executive Charlotte Morton welcomed the results, but pointed out that the UK was ignoring some easy opportunies for AD growth.
"The UK is already one of the European leaders on food waste AD facilities and technology, with over 80 plants in operation. But with only about 7% of our food waste recycled through AD the potential is far greater, and can only be delivered by government policy which supports segregated food waste collection schemes.
"If we were to recycle all the food waste which is unsuitable for consumption, the AD industry could be five times bigger than it is today. Overall we could generate enough green energy to meet over 10% of the UK's domestic gas demand, reduce carbon emissions by 2%, recycle essential nutrients for food production and deliver new high value biotechnology products, such as biochemicals and bioplastics."
WRAP also published a Scotland-specific report today, with slightly less auspicious results. There was exactly the same number of AD plants (11) in 2013 as there was in 2012, although total waste process increased by 11%
WRAP concluded that this data indicated a sector which is "smaller and less developed, with less evidence of commitment to certified quality assurance and capturing value through end markets for their digestate".