The UK’s anaerobic digestion (AD) sector could ‘double or triple in size’ by the end of the decade, a report by the sustainability and resources charity WRAP has suggested.
‘The Organics Recycling Industry Status Report 2015’, which was published last month, suggests that growth in the AD sector is set to continue, with the sector having grown at a “rapid pace” between 2004 and 2014.
The report was led by WRAP and delivered in partnership with industry bodies including NNFCC – the Bioeconomy Consultants, the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), the Renewable Energy Association (REA), and the Environmental Services Association.
It suggested that there are close to 500 potential new plants in development – including those using organic waste feedstock – which could potentially “double or triple the size of the sector between 2014 and 2019”.
However, according to the report, this is “highly dependent” on the policy landscape, support for renewable energy incentives and access to suitable feedstocks.
According to the report, in 2012, 105 AD plants processed up to 2.4 million tonnes of inputs with 120 MWe output capacity. By 2014, this increased to 259 facilities processing 5.26 million tonnes of feedstock and providing 238 MWe of generating capacity.
The report found the majority of feedstock processed in 2014 was food waste (1.8 million tonnes, 35%). And, the majority (1.53 million tonnes) of this food waste processed by AD facilities in England, Wales and Scotland came from commercial and industrial sources.
However, the report has highlighted the potential for an expansion in the volume of waste handled with an estimated 4.76 million tonnes of food waste still disposed of via the household waste stream. And, this leaves a “major potential untapped feedstock” for AD plant operators, WRAP has claimed.
According to the report, by 2014, 7.3% of all AD sites were PAS110 accredited under the Biofertiliser Certification Scheme, reflecting the underdeveloped status of the digestate market. However, sites with certification increased from 10 in 2013, to 42 sites in 2015.
“This suggests a market for digestate is starting to develop as its nutrient value is being realised and confidence is building in the market.”
The report also found that the compost market which is more “mature” than digestate, continues to grow at a steadier rate.
The majority of organic material processed by composting sites has been sourced from local authorities (85%), and consists mainly of green waste (60-70%) and food waste, the report found.
It noted that 85% of inputs come from local authorities, and suggests it would be “helpful for the industry” if national reporting of waste management included details of the types and sources of organic materials and for which type of facilities the materials are destined for processing.
And, over half of all permitted sites achieved PAS100 accreditation in 2014, increasing from 84 sites in 2008 (47% of total sites), to 180 sites in 2014 (51% of total sites), the report found.
“That UK homes produce nearly four and a half million tonnes of food waste that goes straight to landfill or incineration is a tremendous problem.”
Renewable Energy Association (REA)
For local authorities, the report found that there had been a “sharp decline” in landfilling of waste in England, from 9.9 million tonnes in 2010 down to 5.9 million tonnes in 2014. And, organics sent for recycling by councils had increased by 20% since 2010, from 3.5 million tonnes to 4.2 million tonnes in 2014.
Commenting on the findings of the report Jeremy Jacobs, technical director of the REA, said despite the growth in organics being diverted from landfill, there is still a large volume of household food waste being sent to landfill or for incineration each year.
Mr Jacobs said: “That UK homes produce nearly four and a half million tonnes of food waste that goes straight to landfill or incineration is a tremendous problem.
“This represents food that isn’t being eaten by hungry people, it represents significant leakage of methane into our atmosphere, and it represents a significant lost opportunity to grow green jobs and produce home grown energy.
“Much more can still be done. We call on political parties to commit to drafting a national waste strategy. Post-Brexit the UK can become significantly more self-reliant for our energy production and household food waste collections will be critical to this.”
WRAP Organics report