Anaerobic digestion (AD) has come a long way since I first became involved almost eight years ago.
Today there are 558 operational AD plants in the UK, generating enough energy from biogas to power over a million homes.
In Europe, there are approximately 17,240 biogas and 367 biomethane plants, according to a report from the European Biogas Association. These plants are recycling food waste, agricultural wastes, sewage, and energy crops into renewable heat and power, green transport fuel, and nutrient-rich biofertiliser.
The wide range of benefits that AD offers means that it is becoming increasingly impossible for politicians and investors to ignore, but there is a long way still to go in terms of biogas being able to reach its full potential.
The UK AD market continued to grow strongly in 2016, with at least 15% more capacity than in 2015. 2016 was a particularly strong year for biomethane, with capacity for green gas growing by at least 45% to nearly 60,000 m3/hr. 2017, however, is likely to be the most challenging year for the UK biogas industry in four years due to a death of policy support.
The industry urgently needs the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to pass the delayed Renewable Heat Incentive legislation to ensure that new biogas and biomethane plants currently on hold can be built. England also needs to follow Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in rolling out mandatory separate food waste collections, allowing food waste to be recycled through AD into valuable products whilst also avoiding significant methane emissions from landfill.
There’s also a lot we can learn from our colleagues across the Channel; biogas is steadily growing in many other European countries, and has been a particular success in Germany and Italy. In addition, new biogas markets are also springing up in Eastern Europe, where there is vast potential. Poland, for example, has the feedstock, workforce, economic potential, and commitment to sustainability needed to foster a thriving biogas sector.
These are exciting times, and it’s essential that we all continue to learn from each other and share best practice to maximise all the value that biogas offers.
Chief Executive, Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association