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Helping local authorities achieve their climate targets

Many UK local authorities have now declared a climate emergency and committed to take urgent action to reduce their carbon emissions at a local level. Many have set 2030 as a target date for going carbon zero, 20 years ahead of central government’s 2050 target. To achieve their ambitious targets, local authorities across the UK will have to decarbonise quickly. A whole systems approach will be essential in curbing their carbon footprint, for instance planning’s decisions in areas such as waste management will have to be linked to their climate declaration plans.

AD can significantly reduce emissions in key contributors to climate change such as waste management, agriculture, transport, and heat and can help create circular economies at a local level. AD recycles organic wastes such as food waste, agricultural wastes, and sewage, into renewable energy and a low carbon biofertiliser, digestate, that recovers nutrients and organic matter to help restore depleted soils.

Central government support for AD has focused on its ability to generate renewable energy, more recently biomethane, a sustainable gas which acts as a direct substitute for fossil natural gas.

Food waste collections

The Resource and Waste Strategy – published in 2018 – has set out an ambition for all homes and suitable businesses in England to have access to food waste collections by 2023. ADBA has been working with the UK Government to ensure that local authorities have the right level of support and funding to be able to roll out separate food waste collections by 2023.

The Food and Drink Waste Hierarchy has identified AD as the optimal technology for the recycling of all inedible food waste. The hierarchy should inform local authorities’ future decisions on the technologies they should use to process the collected food waste.

Decarbonising public transport

Nottingham has the biggest fleet of biomethane powered buses in the world as of 2017. In 2020, biomethane buses have also been rolled out across Bristol. These two major UK cities have recognised biomethane’s contribution to their climate and cleaner air targets.

Biomethane is a ready to use transport fuel that cuts emissions in this clearly hard-to-reach sector. It has the potential to reduce emissions by 60-80% when compared to gasoline, diesel or liquefied petroleum gas. Today, biomethane is already the same quality as fossil natural gas so can be used in Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) or Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fuelled vehicles. Using biomethane to fuel heavy good vehicles can reduce well-to-wheel emissions by 81% compared to diesel, without considering the potential for CCUS on biomethane plants to make it a carbon negative technology.

Biomethane is often compared to biodiesel and bioethanol as alternative biofuels that are already available for commercial use. However, while bioethanol and biodiesel are obtained from food crops such as corn, sugar cane, soybeans and other vegetable oil crops, biomethane is mainly derived from feedstock such as food waste, manures, and sewage sludge. This makes biomethane a more attractive biofuel as it is generated according to circular economy principles, converting wastes into valuable resources.

Biomethane vehicles have also been proven to slash nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions, significantly improving air quality.

Key stat: Biogas has the potential to decarbonise the UK’s entire HGV fleet or heat a quarter of UK homes.”

Heating homes

Alternatively, biomethane can be injected into the gas grid. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), greening the gas infrastructure is critical to achieve the energy transition and the IEA has identified biomethane generated by AD, and low-carbon hydrogen as the two main options to decarbonise the gas supply. Unlike hydrogen, AD is a ready-to-use technology that is already producing biomethane.

Encouragingly, in March, the UK Government has proposed the introduction of a Green Gas Support Scheme with the ambition to triple the biomethane currently injected into the grid. However, there is more that can be done at the local level to support organic wastes from local authorities being recycled to heat homes. Community projects should be supported to develop local waste management infrastructure that generates local energy, and local renewable biofertiiser that can be used in community gardens.

AD and circular cities

AD should be at the heart of creating new circular cities.

AD is the only way to fully recycle organic wastes such as sewage and inedible food waste and provides a mechanism to reuse both energy and nutrients locked up in these wastes to heat, power, and fuel cities while improving soil quality to feed urban populations.

AD is crucial for reducing GHG emissions from cities:

  • By treating organic wastes, AD greatly reduces emissions of CH4 and other GHGs.
  • By producing biogas and biomethane that can be used for renewable heat, electricity, and as a transport fuel for buses and waste collection vehicles, AD helps to displace fossil fuel based sources of energy.
  • Production of renewable biofertiliser restores carbon to soil and displaces use of fossil fuel based fertilisers. While food production remains largely rural, urban agriculture (e.g. hydroponics) is rising.
  • Production of home-grown renewable energy and renewable biofertiliser reduces reliance on imports from abroad, increasing cities’ energy and food security.
  • AD is also a decentralised technology, it offers local solutions so you can have certain plants serving certain cities and regions.

Boost local economy

A vibrant AD sector provides long-term jobs in a number of sectors in both rural and urban areas, including construction, farming, transport, waste collection and high-skilled manufacturing and engineering jobs. Unlike some other renewables, AD will continue to keep people directly employed through the lifetime operation of a plant.

When the AD industry reaches full capacity, it is estimated that the sector will be employing over 60,000 people directly and indirectly. Crucially, as the locations of AD plants correspond with sources of organic waste, these green jobs will be distributed across the UK, providing often-neglected rural communities new opportunities for employment and training.

How can local authorities start benefiting from AD?

  • Join ADBA today
  • Roll out food waste collections and follow the Food and Drink Waste Hierarchy
  • Back AD in the planning process – Councils have a vital role to play in supporting the AD industry by giving clear and consistent backing in the planning process, and by outlining in their long-term waste management and renewable energy strategies why AD is the best treatment for organic waste.
  • Support biomethane as a transport fuel
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