Our annual Forum for the research and innovation (R&I) community in the AD sector is shaping up to be unmissable. The event will bring together the academic, industrial and public sectors to debate the latest research on subjects like maximising the value of digestate, the impact of Brexit on funding, and the use of trace elements in improving operational performance. With the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently stating, albeit in typically diplomatic language, that we cannot meet 2050 carbon targets without AD, this event comes at a hugely important time.
From this big picture challenge, we need the smallest microbes to help us.
We’ve got some exciting topics and speakers already confirmed, and the Call for Papers closes this week so we will have more to add shortly.
We’re delighted to have Jerry Murphy of the University College Cork, chairman of the International Energy Association’s Biogas Task 37, to open the event in London on 28 March. Jerry will discuss the impact of global research on the AD sector, and how, through the IEA’s technical publications, the AD industry can benefit.
Also on day one of the event we have a panel discussion on the use of trace elements in AD. The use of trace elements are widespread across the AD sector in the UK. Without them many AD plants would quickly fail. We’re delighted that Yue Zhang of the University of Southampton has agreed to present her research on the use of trace elements in AD at high ammonia concentrations, and how trace elements can increase operational performance.
We also have a useful session on maximising the value of digestate. The value or disposal cost of digestate makes a huge difference to the economics of any AD project – even converting a cost of £5/ tonne into a profit of £2/ tonne can transform loss-making plants into profit. We already have a number of speakers confirmed. First, David Tompkins of Aqua Enviro will talk about the work they have undertaken for WRAP on the impact of AD on common pests and herbicides, and what remains in digestate after AD. We also have WRAP and Cranfield University giving an overview of the work that they’ve been conducting on maximising the nutrient value of digestate. Mary Dimambro of the environmental consultancy Cambridge Eco will talk about the potential for digestate to be used in protected horticulture: the horticulture industry currently uses vast quantities of peat for growing plants in greenhouses. In my view this should be banned as peat extraction removes a vital carbon stock from the land. If digestate is one of the potential replacements, we need to hear about the research and how to make it happen. Perhaps Mary can help answer my ongoing question: when I go to B&Q why can I buy horse and cow manure but not digestate fibre?
The Prime Minister has committed to triggering article 50 of the Treaty on European Union in the same month as the Forum, setting in motion the formal withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The ‘Brexit’ process has already thrown the UK research community into turmoil, with the research community unsure as to what EU funding it can apply to and what the situation will be for grant funding due beyond the two years that negotiations are expected to last. The government has tried to answer these concerns, but we we’re delighted that Colin Miles (or an alternative) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Ian Holmes from Innovate UK are going to be telling us the latest situation for research funding and how this might develop under different scenarios.
This year we have teamed up with a group of academic researchers from the ‘Stepping Up’ project, who are examining the challenge of developing innovations that support the Water-Energy-Food nexus. What innovations can support objectives in these three fields, rather than just one (potentially causing issues in the others)? How do we make sure AD supports all three areas, and what policies would support AD meeting the nexus? Stepping Up will be holding a workshop with us to find out.
We’re also holding a panel discussion on the research needed to ensure AD meets its full global potential, and in particular its potential contribution to helping developing countries improve sanitation, reduce hunger and increase access to energy services. We have Mark Clayton, who has designed AD systems for use in a range of situations, including potentially refugee and disaster zones, chairing the discussion. And we have Mike Mason, who has built AD plants in Africa as well as studied the global potential for AD and how it can be made cost competitive with coal in semi-arid regions.
Overall, our aim for the event is to bring academia and industry together to improve the use of the feedstocks that the industry has access to, and to commercialise previously expensive or hard-to-digest material. The more efficient AD is, the more profit can be made and the higher the impact AD has on the world.
To achieve this, operators need to hear the latest research to improve profitability and keep ahead of the competition for feedstocks. Consultants need to know what to recommend to their clients, and which experts to call on for particular questions. Equipment and technology suppliers need to know how their products will fit into the market and compete against other products as science progresses. And researchers need to be aware of all the latest research from other institutions, and most of all to receive feedback from industry on the research priorities, building collaborative ventures where possible.
Links to some of the research and publications outlined above
CCC – all assumptions on gas network decarbonisation include using AD
International Energy Agency (IEA) Task 37 research summary papers
Trace element requirements for stable food waste digestion at elevated ammonia concentrations
Cambridge Eco research