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Chair shares views on opportunities in the water sector ahead of ADBA National Conference 2016

Ahead of ADBA National Conference 2016, Graham Southall from V2B Consulting Limited shares some thoughts pertinent to the “How is water sector deregulation changing organic waste markets?” session. Read our interview with him below:  

1. With the changing political landscape, how can we build on the UK’s recent advances in the AD industry despite the impending Brexit?

I don’t think that Brexit should have major impact on the development of the AD/waste industry.  The Brexit will not completely close down commerce and innovation transfer between the UK and Europe.  In the shorter term the more interesting change to the political landscape is the opening up of the sludge treatment in the water industry.  And that will not be impacted by Brexit.

There may also be some areas where Brexit may help. It has never been clear to me why environmental regulations have been so hard to unpick in order to allow the simple disposal to land of co-digested sludge, particularly when either sewage sludge (under the sludge use in agriculture regulations) or food waste with PAS110 can go to land.  European regulations have always appeared at least to be part of the cause of this.  Brexit may make it possible to resolve this issue.

2. Does Ofwat’s Water 2020 really bring new opportunities to the organic waste sector, or have existing developments already realized most of them?

The acid test is whether we have seen the blurring of the line between treating sewage sludge and other organic waste.  A small amount of non-sewage sludge is treated by water companies and in that case by separate independent entities without gaining the synergies of being a combined business. In practice no sewage sludge is treated by non-water companies.  So clearly we have not realized the benefits. 

That said, I believe that the 2020 regulations should go further and allow voluntary licence separation as has happened in non-household retail.  That would permit water companies to make strategic decisions to exit sludge treatment and allow waste companies (or other water companies) to come in and acquire the assets and the businesses.

3. What would you say is the most exciting innovation with the potential of revolutionising sludge treatment?

I don’t think there is a simple innovation that will revolutionise sludge treatment.  I think we should expect or hope for evolution rather than revolution.  This is partly because there are differing aspects that can change:

  • Pre-treatment of sludge – how best to maximise the sludge destruction and energy recovery from the sludge
  • Optimising the use of the residual cake, including enhanced energy recovery
  • Improving the use of the biogas, this may we evolve as incentives change reflecting the preferred use of the gas for example as bio-methane in road transport as opposed to heat and power from CHP engines.

Don't forget to book your ticket for ADBA National Conference, 8 December 2016.

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