Notes to editors

Here is the basic information for the media about ADBA and anaerobic digestion

Key facts you need to know about ADBA:

  • ADBA stands for The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association.
  • The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association was founded in September 2009.
  • Since its launch ADBA has acquired around 300 members, including AD plant operators, suppliers, local authorities, farmers including the NFU, utility and energy companies such as E.ON and United Utilities, food producers such as Waitrose, fleet operators such as  Howard Tenens.
  • ADBA aims to facilitate the development of a mature AD industry in the UK and to represent all businesses involved, to remove the barriers they face, and to support its members to grow their businesses and the industry, to help the UK meet its renewable energy, climate change and landfill targets, as well as the preservation of critical natural resources.

Key facts you need to know about anaerobic digestion and biogas:

  • Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a natural process which converts organic matter like household food and garden waste, farm slurry, waste from food processing plants and supermarkets, and sewage sludge, into biogas.
  • The AD industry has the potential to be worth £2-3 billion in the UK alone and employ 35,000 people.
  • Overseas potential is significant and with the right support now, the UK could be a world leader.
  • The AD industry has the potential to generate around 40 TWh of energy, equivalent to over 10% of the UK’s domestic gas demand. It is already generating 1.3 TWh, four times solar PV.
  • AD is the only renewable that can be scaled up fast enough to enable the UK to reach its 2020 renewable energy target.
  • Biogas (which is approximately 60% biomethane, 40% CO2) can be used to generate electricity and heat, or, upgraded to biomethane, either used as a transport fuel or fed directly into the UK’s gas grids.
  • According to the Carbon Trust the generation of biomethane would save twice as much carbon dioxide as producing electricity by 2020.
  • AD reduces greenhouse gas emissions by treating organic wastes which would otherwise emit methane (landfill, slurries) and reducing our use of energy intensive commercial fertilisers and fossil fuels.
  • AD preserves critical natural resources such as nitrates and phosphorus. Phosphorous is a finite resource for which there is no known alternative. It is critical for plant growth and world resources are already running out.  Nitrates are one of the key components of fertilisers.
  • AD significantly improves Britain’s energy security – we will soon be importing over 70% of our gas.
  • Unlike other renewables, biomethane is generated constantly and can be stored in the gas grid.
  • Biomethane is one of the few renewable fuels for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) which cannot run on electricity.
  • Biomethane used as a transport fuel helps address air quality issues. Pollution from vehicle emissions currently causes approximately 32,000 premature deaths a year. Biomethane burns much more cleanly than petrol or diesel; in Coca-cola’s trial they found that NOx and particulate matter emissions were reduced by 85.6% and 97.1% respectively.

Crop feedstocks for AD: getting the facts

Defra has published experimental statistics on the areas of non-food crops grown in the UK. This includes the areas of oilseed rape, sugar beet, wheat, miscanthus, short rotation coppice and straw crops grown in the UK for use as bioenergy. They can be found in full here, with information on anaerobic digestion in chapter four.

Some of the headline figures are:

  • Farm-based plants used 631,000t of inputs in 2012, of which 389,000t were crops
  • Forage maize grown for biogas used around 15,500 hectares in 2013, less than 10% of UK maize

The area of land used to grow maize for AD in 2013 was less just 0.24% of the UK’s croppable area. That around 60% of farm feedstocks are crops demonstrates the way that they are combined with wastes such as manure and slurry.

Overall, the industry has become increasingly dominated by waste feedstocks in recent years. We estimate plants treating municipal, commercial and industrial waste make up 75% of the industry’s installed capacity, without even taking into account some farm wastes.

Ensuring bioenergy sustainability is vitally important to government, as both the Committee on Climate Change and the Bioenergy Strategy rightly made clear. The industry therefore needs to engage with the evolution of sustainability criteria: our blog for members went into more detail about this process recently. The sustainability calculator is already providing a useful tool, for example showing as its default value that maize AD produces electricity at 115 gCO2/kWh, compared to a grid average of almost 500 gCO2/kWh.

However, sustainability is about more than a greenhouse gas number. The ways in which crops for AD can be integrated into farming practice have other benefits, including improving soil quality, reducing the need for chemical inputs and complementing food production. AD feedstocks can be integrated into crop rotations rather than turning whole areas over to energy production, and nutrients are returned to land through digestate rather than wasted. There are details and examples of this in our briefing document here.

We are in the process of producing best practice guidance on growing crop feedstocks for AD, which we hope to publish in the next few months. This will demonstrate how farmers can generate wider environmental benefits using AD crops, and avoid environmental risks.

Facts about digestate and why source segregation is important:

  • 1.1% of the UK’s total GHG emissions come from the production of commercial fertilisers. Scotland estimates that it can replace as much as 25% of these from biofertilisers made from digestate.
  • To produce quality biofertilisers from digestate, it is important to source segregate food waste – source segregating waste streams at the kerbside results in quality, recycled products which have the greatest value.
  • The cost of commercial fertilisers is linked to the price of oil. Using biofertilisers made from quality (source segregated) inputs will help keep food prices down.

Costs and benefits of source segregated waste collections:

  • Excellent work has been done demonstrating that source-segregating kerbside collections not only results in better quality recycled products but also costs less to collect and treat and results in less waste overall as people are more aware of how much they are throwing away.
  • Wasting food costs the average family with children £680 a year, or £50 a month, and has serious environmental implications too. If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road.
  • Example from Bexley Council: swapped from weekly refuse / fortnightly recycling in 2008 to weekly recycling (food and garden comingled and mixed recyclables). As a result:
    • 5,000 t more went to the organic collection (food/garden waste).
    • 5,000 t more went to mixed recyclables (plastics/metals/glass/paper/card etc).
    • And there was 18,000 t less waste left in their residual collection than the previous year.
    • Overall, there was 10,000 t less waste generated than in the previous year.
    • In terms of costs, the costs of collection were neutral but they saved £820,000 on disposal in first year and over £1m in second year.
    • There were just 20 complaints from 220,000 residents.

Benefits to corporates and supermarkets:

  • Packaged food can be processed more cheaply in AD than in landfill.