23 August 2022
Creating more jobs is always an economic benefit. However, Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is usually not associated with high levels of job creation. Perhaps this is because AD plants typically have excellent ergonomics and efficiency and only require a workforce of three to four people to operate. Indeed, some smaller-sized Combined Heat and Power (CHP) farm-scale plants may operate with only one operator. Although, for those outside the sector, AD may appear to be a small and inconsequential employer, behind each AD plant stands an army of supporting services. These services provide employment for a diverse array of people who design, maintain and operate the facilities.
The industry supports many design consultees dedicated to the sector. The nature of the business means that almost all sites must be designed to cater to their unique land take, feedstock and environmental requirements. Many design consultancies also offer a follow-on EPC service, while some specialise in providing civils, M and E, and other process design services. In the UK, it is estimated that this sector supports over thirty companies that offer these services, underpinning the development of the industry.
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Planning and Permitting Consultants
Before the construction of an AD plant can start, planning permission needs to be secured. These permissions are invariably more complex than standard planning permissions for this industrial sector because of the biological nature of the plants. Transport surveys, visual impact assessments, odour assessments, hydrology reports, ecology reports and acoustic assessments are just a few mandatory required reports. These reports call for specialists and support a broad spectrum of jobs.
Finance and Legal
If you go to any industry trade fair, you will see significant representation from the finance sector due to increased interest in sustainable financing projects, including AD. Almost all AD plants are primarily debt funded. The nature of debt funding generates work streams for financial analysts as due diligence is conducted on technology, feedstock plans, subsidy regimes, lease agreements and a whole jigsaw of other information required before funding is secured. Once the financial package is agreed upon, it needs to be wrapped in a legal agreement employing a financier and lawyers.
The construction of an AD plant typically takes between twelve to twenty-four months, depending on the size and complexity of the plant. Groundworks, civils, E and M and numerous specialist contractors are required to deliver a plant. Because of an AD plant's inherent highly technical specification, the construction tends to provide high-skilled and high-paid jobs not available in many other industrial development projects. Over the past twelve years, between thirty to forty AD plants have been delivered in the UK. Each year you might expect to see thirty construction workers on-site, meaning the construction sector has supported over 1200 jobs consistently for over a decade.
AD is intrinsically linked to the agricultural sector, whether a crop, waste, or sewage-fed plant. This is because the digestate is recycled to land, underpinning many of the green credentials of AD as agriculture can diversify from conventional carbon-intensive fertilisers. In addition, the consistent nature of an AD plant's input feedstock and output digestate offer farmers assured income streams making them less dependent on the rapidly changing market for crops and fertilisers. This allows investment on farms strengthened by long-term digestate and silage supply contracts. Many jobs on farms are thus generated by AD.
Digestate is the residue material remaining after the AD process. Digestate makes exceptional fertiliser and is commonly used on agricultural land to nourish the soil. Since the recent price increase of artificial chemical fertilisers, spreading digestate to improve soil has become increasingly popular. However, digestate requires special machinery for transporting and spreading and must be operated by an experienced individual, creating further job opportunities in the AD industry.
Operating AD plants requires specialist support to manage highly technical CHPs, Grid Entry Units (GEU), Biogas Upgrading Plant (BUP), and compressors. Typically, these jobs are contracted to specialist organisations on a maintenance contract agreement.
Waste and Recycling
According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste worldwide is thrown away yearly. Food waste can be recycled to produce renewable energy through Food Waste AD plants, but the waste must be collected from households and businesses and transported to the plants. Therefore, anaerobic Digestion for civil, municipal, and commercial food waste creates job opportunities such as Food Waste Household Collection through to Food Waste Doorstep Supervisors and even jobs in municipal departments planning the food waste collection strategy.
All AD plants produce renewable energy, including heat, electricity, or gas. A contractual agreement between energy buyers and the AD is complex and often supported by specialist consultants.
To be effective and produce optimal amounts of methane, the microorganisms in the AD digester tanks require precise biology. Therefore, substrate samples are taken daily and tested on-site for PH, fos tac and dry matter. However, most AD plants do not have comprehensive laboratories, and off-site laboratory testing is needed for feedstock evaluation, comprehensive substrate testing, gas analysis, ABPR compliance and digestate quality assurance. The industry supports two or three specialist laboratories in the UK, providing high skilled employment.
As demonstrated, Anaerobic Digestion is associated with high levels of job creation and employs, at a high level of education, a diverse array of people to design, maintain and operate the facilities.