Friday, September 18, 2015

5 Undeniable Advantages of Anaerobic Digestion the Industry Has Failed to Publicize

The UK anaerobic digestion industry has done very well in recent years, with a huge growth in the number of AD Plants, but are new UK government policies are about to reverse all this against a background of media distaste for anything to do with anything mucky, and public apathy?

That there has been great progress is clear from the following quote taken from a recent article published in Resource by Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA), in which she explains that:

"The [UK] anaerobic digestion (AD) industry recently celebrated the passing of a huge industry milestone, with the announcement that over 400 biogas plants are now in operation as a result of over 600 per cent growth outside the water sector over the past five years.* In total, the AD industry now delivers a combined electrical equivalent capacity (electricity and biomethane) of over 514 megawatts - equivalent to the remaining capacity of one of the UK's nuclear power plants, Wylfa, which is being decommissioned this year.
With almost 100 plants expected to be commissioned by the end of this year, mirroring last year's growth surge in which AD's electrical capacity grew by 40 per cent, the industry's prospects should look encouraging for developers, operators and investors alike. Sadly, however, quite the opposite is true as the government's spending axe has fallen sharply on vital support for renewables."

Read the full article here.

Clearly, the UK government either does not understand the real benefits which AD offers, or is willfully pandering to the whims of the entirely discredited "climate change deniers" which remain within the Conservative party.

The leading trade association within the UK anaerobic digestion says that the industry is working to demonstrate the excellent return on investment, which anaerobic digestion (biogas) plants provides. This advantages are, is in our opinion, not only advantageous for its owners, but also for the government, and society as a whole.

That the message is failing to be made effectively is against common sense, is illogical, and will set back the UK, and the UK's previously benign influence on global decarbonisation by many years.
The media frequently talks constantly about wind, tide, and solar power, but almost never about anaerobic digestion. Within the BBC, the only programme which fairly regularly talks about AD is Countryfile. Elsewhere, heaven forbid that they mention anything as distasteful as waste food, or "sludge". Do they think that nice people would rather not be reminded of their wasteful habits?

And, yet the advantages of anaerobic digestion are real, and substantial, and here are some that seldom get aired, but everyone who knows about AD should be singing these 5 benefits from the rooftops:

1. AD is Cost Effective and Low Risk

The case for AD needs no help from any unfashionable "green" notions, although it has many advantages in this area. AD technology improvements mean that the energy it provides will be cheaper than nuclear by the time England's only new nuclear plant actively in development comes online.

AD provides localised generation without all the inherent risks of huge power station project developments which the government dictates must be implemented without direct government investment. Lack of government investment means lack of control over commercial nuclear plant programmes. The Hinkley Point C Nuclear Facility planned for Somerset, is already 6 years late before building even starts.

At the same time AD is reducing the UK's carbon emissions by four per cent, a huge number for a single technology. It also remains highly questionable how much nuclear saves on carbon emissions when decommissioning energy use and storage for thousands of years is truly factored-in.

2. Benefits to the Local Economy, Improved Agricultural Productivity and Improved UK Global Competitiveness

AD provides benefits to the local economy from employment which employs more people per megawatt than nuclear ever will. It is, according to ADBA already employing 4,500 people, and if the government does not crush the current upward trend, the industry will soon potentially employ over 30,000 more people. These jobs will be in construction, transport, waste collection, manufacturing and engineering.

Who could pretend this potential is not worth protecting? But also, on-site AD is a win-win for the way it boosts the economic and environmental sustainability of farming and enables food production with less imported fertilizer.

But it doesn't stop there. By developing a core of AD businesses with world-class expertise in biogas production and all its uses, the value of the very large export markets that is just starting create for the UK biogas market sector can help massively to re-balance the UK economy toward exports worth billions. The US alone is planning for over 10,000 AD plants within the next 5 years, and that's just one market.

3. Security of Gas Production and Provision of 24/7 Available Electricity

The government has to plan for providing the nation with secure energy sources, sources which can be relied upon in a world of increasing political turmoil. The pressing need for the availability of home-produced gas supplies, is partly why the current UK government is willing to weather the inevitable protests from its core voting supporters from pushing forward with the development of fracking. Why must we frack when we can make biogas?

There is an obvious economic benefit in balancing the intermittency of other renewable, because unless sufficient power is available at all times the nation will suffer hugely costly power cuts. The "baseload" electrical output that AD supplies is capable of doing this, and is much more valuable to the power industry than the unpredictable energy produced by wind and solar. That's proven by the way that the power industry is prepared to pay for it.

So, why build nuclear until all AD feed materials have been used up, when rather than the money being paid to overseas investors it goes back into the pockets of local people through a myriad of agricultural AD plants?

The UK AD industry according to ABDA, if fully developed, can deliver a massive 30% of the UK's domestic gas demand.

AD by generating power locally and reducing the need to ship massive amounts of energy around the country reduces the need to reinforce the national power grid, and ADBA estimates this to be worth about £30 per megawatt hour (MWh).

Don't forget either, that power generated and consumed locally does not end-up unavoidably heating up the wires it flows through. When most of the power comes from no more than a dozen or so regional power stations, as it does now, this energy never reaches the homes and factories it was destined for and is completely wasted. Distributed power of the sort AD provides could reduce these power losses by 30% according to some experts. That means that with AD the UK could scrap 3 power stations, and not replace them!

4.  EU Recycling Target Failure Without AD

AD is the best treatment option for food waste, by the UK government's own declaration. Without AD and large scale separate food waste collections, there is no way that the UK/ England can meet the government's own recycling targets. The public when asked, wants "zero waste" or 100% recycling, so any government which subjects the nation to a failure so undeniable that the nation has to pay EU fines, had better watch out for a major backlash from public opinion.

5. AD is Made for Decarbonising Transport and CHP Heat

Electric cars sound like a great idea, but achieve nothing more than reducing roadside emissions many of which are caused by earlier government policies which encouraged the adoption diesel fuelled cars, is futile if the electricity is made from fossil fuels.

AD plants are increasingly being upgraded to produce a very pure "natural gas" substitute known as biomethane, and new membrane technologies are helping to bring this to many more AD plants. Biomethane from the crude biogas made by AD provides renewable energy in the form of gas. This high energy gas can do much more to help with decarbonising (reducing the carbon emissions of) heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), buses and this gas also happens to be ideal for supplying CHP heat networks otherwise using fossil fuel derived natural gas.


This has been a long article, but the length is also a testimony to the amazing benefits of the AD process, and the skill in recent years of a young AD industry to innovate and develop the technology rapidly.

With all the benefits of AD it is hard to explain them quickly. Will all this be lost to apathy, and a press increasingly incapable of delivering more than a 30 second soundbite?

The message speaks for itself. Do more to spread the word!

We hope that those that have read this article to its fullest, will now be inspired to persuade others, at all potential opportunities of the folly of the present UK governments policies toward AD which, if continued, are most likely to throw another winning UK technology onto the scrapheap like so many other leading UK technologies throughout recent history.