Boost economic growth

The AD industry has the potential to be worth £2-3 billion to the UK economy each year based on current gas prices, delivering more than 10% of the UK’s domestic gas requirements and creating 35,000 UK jobs, largely in manufacturing and engineering. Supporting renewable technologies to combat climate change will reduce the negative impact of spikes in global oil, gas and coal prices on the UK by over 50% by 2050.

Improve energy security

AD could provide 40 TWh of biogas – equivalent to the energy needed to power all of the homes in London nearly three times over – which would help to deliver energy security by reducing our dependence on imported oil, and minimising the risk of interruptions to supplies from the electricity and gas grids.  With approximately 20% of the UK’s existing generating capacity set to close in the next decade, energy security is a major concern.

AD produces a flexible, renewable gas which can be scaled up quickly and easily and used to produce electricity and heat or, upgraded to biomethane, injected into the gas grid or used as a transport fuel. Unlike other renewables, biogas is constantly generated and can be stored in the grid, providing baseload energy and helping to mitigate the intermittency of other renewables.

Provide affordable energy

Compared to other renewables, AD also comes up favourably in terms of energy generation at an affordable cost. Already the UK AD industry is producing four times more electricity than solar panels, with our food waste alone capable of creating enough energy to power over 2,000,000 homes – over THIRTY times more than solar PV currently manages. And delivering on this potential would cost less than if this electricity was generated through offshore wind, for example.

Power low-cost and low-carbon transport

Integrating AD into the transport sector through the use of biomethane vehicles will lead to three key benefits:

  1. Fuel cost savings – biomethane is around 20% cheaper than diesel, so when used by large commercial fleets can achieve significant costs savings. The widespread use of biomethane vehicles will help make UK businesses more competitive than their European rivals, providing a further boost to the UK economy. But to develop the sector further, investment in infrastructure such as gas refuelling stations is needed, as well as more effective support under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO).
  2. Emissions savings – the UK transport sector accounts for 27% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with HGVs on their own accounting for 3% of the UK’s total emissions; indeed, total emissions from HGVs have not shown any significant reduction since 1990. There are relatively few other viable options for decarbonising the transport sector, and trials of biomethane vehicles have been proven to reduce GHG emissions by 50%. Upgrading biogas to biomethane for use in trucks and HGVs has also been recognised by the Carbon Trust as the best use of biogas for reducing emissions.
  3. Air quality – Biomethane vehicles can make a significant contribution to improving air quality, particularly in areas which are struggling to meet their European air quality targets.  With the European Commission recently rejecting plans to delay air quality improvements in the UK and the government potentially facing fines of up to £300million, finding a solution is urgent. Biomethane vehicles produce 90% less particulate-matter emissions (PM10s) and 60–85% less nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions compared with typical diesel fuel vehicles, so the use of biomethane vehicles in HGVs, council refuse collection vehicles and buses represents a huge opportunity to improve air quality in cities where this is a serious issue.

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions

With the UK committed to cutting GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, AD can play a vital role in cutting those emissions in several sectors:

  1. Landfill – with methane emissions from landfill currently accounting for 3% of the UK’s total GHG emissions, the use of organic waste in AD plants can have a huge impact on preventing emissions and putting that potential energy to good use.
  2. Farming – agricultural businesses contributed 7.7% of UK’s GHG emissions in 2008, through powering on-site operations and use of synthetic fertilisers (which alone account for over 1.1% of the UK’s total GHG emissions). AD can produce energy as well as stable, virtuous-cycle biofertilisers for use on all farms. AD can also support food production. [Jump to SUPPORT CLIMATE SMART FARMING]
  3. Gas and electricity supply – AD can generate electricity at the excellently low rate of 11g CO2/KWh compared to the current grid average of over 500gCO2/KWh. At present around half the UK’s GHG emissions result from heat use, with the majority of heat use coming from gas use, with the greatest proportion of this being from domestic gas use. Upgrading biogas to biomethane to be injected into the gas grid removes the need for fossil-fuel sources and can play a leading role in decarbonising the gas grid. It has been calculated that a mature AD industry would be capable of meeting over 10% of domestic gas demand.
  4. Transport – Using biomethane as vehicle fuel cuts transport sector emissions, which currently account for 27% of the UK’s total GHG emissions. Trucks or HGVs which run on biomethane have achieved 50% GHG savings compared to their diesel equivalent.

Support climate smart farming

AD is critical to the future of UK farming, making farming operations more profitable and sustainable. AD allows farmers to generate their own renewable energy for on-site operations, improve soil quality and crop yields by integrating purpose grown crops as a break crop, and manage slurries more effectively, while the use of digestate reduces the need for damaging synthetic fertilisers, all of which are essential issues in food security in the UK. Visit our farming page for more information.

Government can give the industry a major boost by providing consistent and stable support for AD with a long term vision of its potential, and by recognising AD’s importance to waste management, the farming sector and energy generation. Government can do that in the following ways:


Encourage financing of AD projects, and offer consistent tariff support

Ensuring that the WRAP loan fund and Green Investment Bank have sufficient funds to support AD development would help address the difficulty in raising investment, which has affected many AD projects. Not only that, but while AD is still a young industry, investors’ confidence in the market is dependent on the stability of the tariff mechanisms: a system of pre-accrediting AD schemes at financial close to fix applicable tariffs for the subsidy period should provide greater certainty for developers when introduced from December 2012. Renewable heat use from biogas combustion should be supported at all levels, to ensure that the UK is making the most of the biogas produced. Also, given the benefits of using biomethane for HGV fuel, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) should be amended, so that AD biogas producers are able to claim RTFO support for injection of gas to the grid, which is extracted elsewhere in the network for conversion to vehicle fuel. We are aware of plans to amend the RTFO to allow quadruple rather than double counting for biomethane from waste sources, which should boost the biomethane vehicle market by closing the tariff gap with the RHI and making this use of biomethane more attractive for producers.

Roll out food waste collections across all English local authorities by 2015 and move to ban all organic waste to landfill in England by 2020.

Encourage use of biomethane to fuel heavy goods vehicles.

Promote source segregated collection of municipal solid waste (MSW) and commercial and industrial (C&I) waste, and make finance available for local authorities to switch to source segregated waste collection.

Encourage biomethane injection to the grid by removing project barriers

Currently, high cost and regulatory complexity makes grid connection difficult for many plants; injection to the gas grid is the most efficient use of biogas, but only two plants are currently connected. Amendments to the gas regulations – already being contemplated – such as increasing the amount of oxygen biomethane may contain and relaxing the stringent accuracy requirements on calorific value measurement, would make a major difference, as would introducing functional specifications for grid connections to standardise connection requirements and open them up to competition.

Develop the market for digestate

Although the nutrients in AD digestate have a potential value of over £200 million a year, for most AD plants digestate does not yet have a market. Defra and WRAP have recognised the need to help the market develop, and we welcome the initiatives they have taken. It would further help if regulations were amended so farm co-operatives could spread waste co-digested with on-farm waste as long as both were pasteurised, and for more education about the benefits of digestate amongst farm end users and major supermarket buyers was available. For more information please view the AD Roadmap here.

Read more . . .

We’ve compiled a range of reports and studies, for further reading on all aspects of how AD could benefit government. If there’s anything else you’d like to know about AD, please get in touch.

Do you still have questions about the benefits of AD?

If so, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions that can found here