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2020 – an unprecedented year of opportunity for biogas in the UK

2020 – an unprecedented year of opportunity for biogas in the UK  

A message from Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive, ADBA

No matter what your opinion on Brexit is, now that it's “done”, we can all agree that it marks the end of a significant period of uncertainty in British politics.  This return to relative stability can only be good news.

A clear majority in Parliament means that government decisions are enacted more rapidly. With also a majority of pro-green policy MPs in the House and more scope to focus on issues other than Brexit, we have sound reasons to feel optimistic about the future of our industry in the UK.

Most importantly, in November, Britain will be hosting the critical United Nations Climate Change Summit, COP26. The UK Government must therefore show strong leadership and commitment on environmental and sustainability issues to the rest of the world – or risk serious embarrassment. In particular it must clearly demonstrate what actions it is taking to meet the Net Zero by 2050 target that it has set for the country.   

As we enter a new, critical decade for climate change mitigation, we are, therefore, presented with an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the huge contribution anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas can make to addressing both UK and global challenges, and to place the industry at the heart of a new global green, sustainable and circular economy.  How many sectors can deliver a 6% reduction in UK green house gases emissions across heat, transport, waste and agriculture within a decade?  Only one: biogas.

A new set of market opportunities

With the British Government redoubling efforts to assert the country's green credentials, the UK AD and biogas market is ripe for huge returns on investment in many areas, particularly:

  • On-farm AD

Agriculture offers the biggest scope for growth, as the Agriculture Bill currently being passed in Parliament sets to reward farmers for adopting environmentally friendly methods of farming.  The National Farmers Union has committed to decarbonising agriculture by 2040, and AD delivers the biggest contribution to their goal. Combined with the loss of the Common Agriculture Policy after Brexit, this means British farmers will turn to on-farm AD to reduce their carbon footprint, save on energy and fertilisers, and diversify their income.  There are currently over 90 million tonnes of agricultural wastes (manures, slurries and other farm wastes) that need to be treated through AD.  Capturing and recycling that feedstock means that the number of on-farm AD plants in the UK could go from the current 375 to 3200.  An overall investment of £8.5billion will be needed to build those plants.

  • Food waste collection and treatment

In its Resources and Waste Strategy, the UK Government has made it mandatory for all local authorities in England to implement separate food waste collections from 2023.  Scotland and Wales are already well ahead in food waste recycling, and this legal requirement in England opens up a new market for AD operators and food waste management suppliers to support municipalities with the collection and treatment processes. Of the 7.3 million tonnes of household food waste generated annually, only 15% of it is collected and processed through AD or composted; if you include industrial and commercial sources, over 10 million tonnes of food is wasted each year. The UK Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs has committed to supporting local authorities with their investment.

  • Biomethane

Biomethane offers huge scope to decarbonise both heating and transport. Based on existing technological efficiency, the UK could generate nearly 8 billion m3 per year of biomethane by 2030, enough to heat over 6 million homes.  The UK Government has recently confirmed that it is considering a successor arrangement to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which is the primary support mechanism for the UK biomethane industry.  Meanwhile, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) has increased, which means that producers of biomethane for transport are set to earn more money from the sale of Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates.

Britain is currently generating one fifth of its biomethane production potential. An additional 4,500 plants need to be built and operated to fulfil its full potential, requiring approx. £20.3billion investment.

An opportunity we must not miss

As it prepares to host COP26, Britain is still lagging behind on the green economy. The AD and biogas industry can deliver over 30% of the UK’s 2030 Carbon Budget. It is therefore ideally placed to help the UK catch up in time for the Summit and demonstrate its potential.  We are entering a golden era of opportunity to establish biogas as a key player in the development of a global sustainable circular economy.

In 2020, with the eyes of the world firmly set on the UK to lead on the climate emergency and enter new green trade deals, our country has become the place to be for anyone in the AD and biogas industry to seize the multiple business openings on offer and secure lasting success. 

Charlotte Morton
Chief Executive 
ADBA

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