Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Much Needed Quality Protocol for Anaerobic Digestate Published

Anaerobic digestion technology is expected to become more attractive to UK investors following the publication of a long-awaited Quality Protocol aimed at cutting red tape governing solid residues from the process, known as digestate.

The revised Quality Protocol is available now on the Environment Agency website

WRAP, Defra and the Environment Agency have published a document which, subject to approval from the European Commission, will enable digestate which meets set criteria to be classified as a product rather than a waste. Such a move would mean the material would no longer be subject to waste management controls.

Anaerobic digestion is the process through which biodegradable waste is broken down by micro-organisms in the absence of oxygen. This process produces biogas, which can be used to generate energy, waste water and digestate.

The protocol is particularly significant because, despite government support for anaerobic digestion technology and its carbon benefits, there has been limited uptake of the technology in the UK to date - with marketing digestate one of the main sticking points.

Nick Bethel, policy advisor at the Environment Agency, told that the protocol had been designed to "bring value into the resource" and one of its purposes was to create a "climate for investment". Mr Bethel added the EA was "expecting to see further investment and more AD facilities being built" thanks to the re-classification of digestate from a waste to a product.


The Quality Protocol, which has been revised since an original consultation in April (see story) lays out a number of requirements for AD operators who want to produce "quality digestate" from biodegradable waste.

Digestate must be produced using source-segregated materials listed in the Protocol, such as municipal food waste which has been collected separately and specified food and animal wastes.

Significantly, the Protocol designates end market for the digestate. Those markets are:

• Agriculture
• Forestry
• Soil and field grown horticulture
• Land restoration
• Soil manufacture and blending operations
• Land reclamation

In all cases the digestate must be used in a way that does not "pose a risk to the environment" and does "not compromise the future sustainable use of the soil to which they are applied".

Waste operators must also keep strict records showing showing that digestate meets the approved standards and the Quality Protocol. AD operators must also obtain certification from an approved body such as the Association for Organics Recycling.

Before publication as a final document in England and Wales, the draft Quality Protocol must be notified before the European Commission's Technical Standards committee, which may take up to six months.

During this period, the Environment Agency will continue to regulate the production and use of quality outputs from anaerobic digestion of source-segregated biodegradable waste in accordance with the interim regulatory position statement available on the Environment Agency website.

A spokesman for Defra commented: "The Government recognises the potential of food waste to generate energy in an environmentally friendly way. For example, we are investing £10 million over the next three years into new anaerobic digestion demonstration plants to encourage a number of industries including energy providers to take up this important new technology.

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