TIME TO STEP ON THE GAS By Charlotte Morton, ADBA’s Chief Executive
role of renewables, the new government will be fixated on the cost-effectiveness of each policy and so we need to highlight the value of our industry, not the least the following:
Energy benefits of AD 1. It generates storable and flexible home-grown green gas, producing electricity even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, reducing the cost of grid balancing, potentially providing around 30 per cent of our domestic gas demand;
2. It increases our energy security, reducing reliance on expensive natural gas from Russia and Qatar;
3. It has serious export and market potential, particularly with the UK positioned as one of Europe’s leaders on food waste technology.
However, if we are to really highlight the cost-effectiveness of AD, we will also need to emphasise its non-energy benefits, such as:
Non-energy benefits of AD 1. With the potential to reduce the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions by four per cent, AD offers one of the most cost-effective solutions for reducing methane emissions – especially in an agricultural setting – and contributes substantially to UK and EU carbon mitigation targets;
2. It’s helping to keep farmers farming and improving the UK’s food security – the number of on-farm AD plants has doubled to 139 in the last year alone, and the nutrient-rich digestate produced could be worth over £200m a year;
3. New high-value products created from the AD process could substantially contribute towards a £100bn bioeconomy;
4. As one of the few circular economy technologies already functioning, the Green Investment Bank has highlighted AD as one of the top ten technologies meeting the vital recycling and renewable energy needs for resource-efficient, smarter city designs;
5. Recycling all inedible food waste through AD could produce enough biomethane fuel for 60 per cent of the UK’s bus fleet, dramatically improving our air quality – particularly vital following Public Health England’s calculation that air pollution caused over 28,000 deaths in 2010.
AD is a constantly evolving, adaptable technology and our industry is driving hard to reduce costs, increase outputs, cut carbon footprints, and develop new, innovative high-value products. We have achieved a great deal over the past five years, growing by over 622 per cent, but now is the time to step on the gas. We must scale up to reach our potential and deliver vital green gas, high value products, greenhouse gas reductions and nutrient rich digestate for the country now!
4 AD & BIORESOURCES NEWS | JUNE 2015 www.adbioresources.org adbioresources.org
majority government has emerged from the mist of uncertainty surrounding the General Election, and the Conservative administration has signalled a positive stance towards the green industry by appointing carbon-conscious ministers to DECC. While acknowledging the
AD CAN DELIVER 30% OF THE UK’S HOUSEHOLD GAS DEMAND
Following the recent ADBA R&D Forum, we have doubled our estimation of the amount of methane AD could generate, from 40 TWh to 80 TWh.
Speakers at the event, held in April, discussed some of the new feedstocks which may become suitable for AD with technological advances, including: • macroalgae (such as seaweed) grown or collected off the coast;
• microalgae grown using digestate; • wetland biomass (reeds) and other high-lignin feedstocks;
• hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water using ‘waste’ electricity; and
• organic co-products from advanced agriculture, such as aquaculture and the greenhouse sector.
In particular, advanced agriculture has the potential to make use of the waste carbon dioxide, water and heat from biogas combustion as well as the nutrients and water in digestate to support plant growth, thus increasing yields or reducing conventional input costs. On this basis, we have reviewed our existing assumptions about the amount of methane the industry could produce in a supportive environment, concluding that 80 TWh of green gas is achievable with the right support.
The use of hydrogen in AD has the potential to turn much of the carbon dioxide produced as part of the AD process into more methane. If adopted (the technology already exists), methane yields per tonne of feedstock could potentially increase from 60 per cent to 90 per cent, and produce about 27 TWh of extra gas. Of course, whether this is possible depends on a number of factors, including the scale at which this technology can be adopted and how the electricity market develops.
Another critical area is whether pre-treatment technologies such as steam explosion, thermal hydrolysis and dry AD can bring high-lignin feedstocks such as straw and garden waste into the market. If so, we have a lot more to offer than has previously been estimated. See R&D Update, p36, for full details.
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