UK now has over 100 anaerobic digestion plants


Figures have been revealed today (18 Mar), showing that the UK has reached a “significant” milestone as the number of anaerobic digestion (AD) plants outside of the water industry has passed 100 for the first time.

According to the figures published by bioeconomy consultants National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC) and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) these figures have nearly doubled since September 2011, when a baseline report was published.

NNFCC says there are now 106 AD plants in the UK, processing up to 5.1 million tonnes of food and farm waste every year and producing a combined electricity capacity of more than 88 megawatts (MWe). There are also “more than a dozen other plants currently under construction”.

This is up from Defra’s ‘Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan: Annual Report on Progress 2011/12’ released in July 2012, which showed that at that time, there were 78 AD plants in operation in the UK.

The figures further show that nearly half of the AD plants currently in operation are ‘community’ digestors, where food waste is collected from multiple sources, like supermarkets, hospitality providers and households, to be converted into heat, power and fertiliser.

A further thirty per cent use ‘agricultural’ feedstocks, like slurry, manure, crops or residues.

The remaining digestors are ‘industrial’ sites treating on site waste such as brewery effluent and food processing residues.

This information confirms findings in BDS Marketing Research’s recent report that planning permission for AD plants is increasing, with anaerobic digestion facilities representing 13 per cent of waste facility applications in 2012.

‘An easy win with good returns’

Commenting on the findings Lucy Hopwood, Head of Biomass and Biogas for NNFCC, said: “This is a significant milestone for the AD industry in the UK and highlights the broad range of companies turning to AD for waste management and to generate renewable heat and electricity.

“Recent actions and innovations in technology development, training and process optimism have led to greater opportunities and a more robust industry. For investors AD is an easy win with good returns, support from a number of government incentives and low investment risk.”

Commenting on the announcement a Defra spokesperson said: "AD is a valuable technology that can turn food and farm waste into renewable energy and valuable fertiliser, we welcome the continuing development of the sector from 54 plants when the AD Strategy was published in June 2011 to more than 100 now,

"Working with stakeholders, we continue to take forward the AD Strategy and Action Plan which is tackling the barriers to further uptake of AD."

However Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA), called for financial support for the sector and coherent government policy to help it deliver its potential for the green economy.

“We need understanding within the government that the current policy framework – for example the lack of coordination between waste and energy policy would be greatly assisted by biogas being included in the Gas Generation Strategy and within the responsibility of the Office of Unconventional Oil and Gas.

“The carbon and economic benefits of resolving these issues and further boosting the growth of AD would be huge,” she said.

UK AD capacity still ‘inadequate’

Despite the growing number of AD plants, the Hospitality Carbon Reduction Forum – a group set up by carbon management company Carbon Statement (CS), and includes restaurant and pub chains such as Nando’s and JD Wetherspoon –  says that “up to half of food waste produced by the hospitality sector is being sent to landfill due to inadequate AD capacity in the UK”.

Indeed, according to the findings, if the 200,000 tonnes of food waste generated by its 12,000 members annually was sent to AD, it could generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes for one year.

Following these findings, CS has now been commissioned by forum members to ‘increase the energy production from food waste recycling targets agreed with WRAP’ (to increase the overall rate that food and packaging waste that is being recycled, sent to anaerobic digestion or composted, to 70 per cent by 2015 as set out in the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement) and .’evaluate and recommend the best ways to turn members’ food waste into energy’.

According to CS, it hopes to benefit from ’volume deals’ with energy-from-waste companies by ‘removing landfill charges, reducing backhauling and transportation costs and associated carbon emissions while earning money from generating energy’.

Speaking of the work, Peter Charlesworth of CS said: “We have mapped all members’ sites across the UK against existing and planned AD capacity to optimise the waste collection process and to consider the siting of new AD plants. Today there is little co-ordination between the supply of food waste, collection and the positioning of sites. Since Scottish legislation bans food waste to landfill from 2014, we need to act now, together as an industry, to tackle this problem.” 

Charlotte Henderson, WRAP Programme Area Manger added: “WRAP is delighted to support this collaborative and innovative approach to increasing the recycling rate of food waste and reducing the amount that ends up in landfill.”

Read more about the problems of food waste.