12 January 2023
At the ABDA conference in December 2022, Lord Deben delivered the keynote speech in which he made an appeal to the Anaerobic Digestion industry. The Chairman of the independent Climate Change Committee noted that we as a sector converse in a dialect incoherent to the outside world. He said that if we are to grow the sector, we need to convince the politicians and the public that Anaerobic Digestion is a horse worth backing. Anaerobic Digestion is a complex subject for the public and politicians to understand. Whilst we communicate using terms like kWh, CHP, GEU, BUP, mesophilic, thermophilic and acidogenesis, we will not get the support we desire.
At the conference, a number of speakers projected forecasts of enormous growth in the sector over the next decade. There was a call for the government to free the industry from the shackles of the planning process, the permitting system and for better government subsidy regimes. Lord Deben’s observation was that the sector would not achieve this unless we explain our case clearly and we are not doing so at the moment.
One message hardly mentioned in the conference halls was the dependence on waste supply to enable growth. Yet this was a constant conversation from all the owners and operators in the networking sessions. It was staggering then that this simple message was not openly discussed as an issue constraining growth.
It is being increasingly recognised just how much methane is produced by agriculture and how much damage manure from cattle, pigs and chickens can cause if not controlled. Yet manures are difficult to process in AD and relatively low in gas yields. Today, therefore, manures and agricultural wastes are not top pickings for operators in the UK. However, North America, Canada and New Zealand have recognised the environmental damage manures cause and now heavily incentivise processing these agricultural wastes. If environmental benefit and green gas are to increase in line with the conference forecasts, greater incentive to recycle these wastes through Anaerobic Digestion is required. We, therefore, need to be much clearer with the government and public about the benefits of processing waste through AD. Yes, renewable biogas, digestate as a fertiliser, CO2 capture, and high base load are unique selling points in our sector but reducing the negative impact of wastes is also something that wind and solar do not do.
So, the message needs to be simple to the government and the public. We can expand the sector but only if waste supply is available. We must address waste supply because organic waste is currently enormously damaging to the environment if not recycled. AD, therefore, needs support because it can process wastes that solar and wind cannot.