Can anaerobic digestion help meet 2030 energy targets?

The UK Government is committed to fulfilling greenhouse gas reduction targets set out in the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Act, regardless of uncertainty brought about by Brexit. Phil Gerrard, CEO of Privilege Finance, believes anaerobic digestion (AD) can play a key role in helping to meet these targets, but that both Government support and a drive to increase efficiency will be necessary.

Food waste management

With Feed in Tariffs (FiTs) scheduled to disappear by 2019 there is currently a question mark over what support the anaerobic digestion (AD) industry can expect in the future from the Government, if any. Mr Gerrard believes this support will not disappear entirely, as AD can play a valuable role in helping the Government meet its targets, but that it will be focused on certain areas.

“A significant amount of CO2 and carbon emissions comes from agriculture so it makes sense for the Government to continue supporting the industry while at the same time driving efficiencies,” he says.

“The direction of travel in the marketplace is towards food waste and waste management, which supports the growth of renewables, and AD in particular.

“The Renewable Heat Incentive is likely to continue until at least 2020, but it will drive bigger schemes such as £10-15 million gas to grid plants fuelled by food waste.”

As FiTs are phased out, this will potentially leave a gap in the middle of the anaerobic digestion industry and medium-sized plants may struggle without subsidies.

Micro anaerobic digestion plants

However, opportunities should open up for micro-AD plants which produce power independently from the grid.

“An area of technology we’re very keen to progress with manufacturers is micro-AD,” Mr Gerrard adds. “These very small AD plants can potentially make farms self-sufficient without subsidies.

“The Government will subsidise the bigger digesters designed as waste plants, whereas asset finance will encourage the development of micro plants.”

When it comes to existing AD plants, efficiency is the priority.

“More work needs to be done to find new technologies that will help drive efficiency through feedstocks so that traditional AD technology can be made more productive.

“We will be looking to work with technology providers to drive more performance out of the 500 AD plants the UK already has. Technology such as CO2 capture, microwaves, hydrolysis and retrofitting will make the industry more efficient and less reliant on subsidies as it matures.”