In the UK, anaerobic digestion (AD) is set to become the go-to circular renewable energy source. The green energy produced by AD is already playing a significant part in the UK’s decarbonisation of electricity and the NFU recently shared that AD is the “key technology to meet its ambitious target” of Net Zero by 2050.

There are now 500 AD plants in operation across the UK, powering farms, businesses, and homes all over the country. Further afield, entire cities are being powered by the renewable energy source, including Aarhus in Denmark.

The benefits of AD

AD provides “ready-to-use technology” which benefits farmers, local communities and the wider public by:

  • producing renewable fuel (biogas)
  • generating green energy
  • improving the quality and sustainability of fertilisers
  • reducing harmful pathogens.

It also accelerates the journey to Net Zero, helping individuals and businesses achieve their green goals quickly, easily, and safely.

The agricultural industry alone produces 10% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions. Manure in particular is one of the largest culprits in the emission of greenhouse gases. AD serves to eliminate this negative impact by converting the CO2 and methane stored within agricultural waste into green gas.

AD’s success is also rooted in its adaptability. It is able to function from a micro-scale (e.g. local farms), to a large scale (e.g. the mass processing of excess feedstock from corporations like Brewdog). Previously, small-scale AD plants were considered unprofitable, but this mindset has changed throughout Europe as their self-sufficient and cost-effective nature is becoming more recognised. For instance, the small-scale model is perfectly suited to farmland and eco-community investors, allowing land owners to be entirely self-sufficient. Due to these successes, BiogasWorld is viewing small-scale and micro-scale AD plants as the future of the industry, stating that “micro-scale digestion allows the autonomy of the system by supplying the digester with the farm products.”.

Government support

Historically, the main barrier faced by AD has been a lack of awareness surrounding its potential. Now that the UK government is acknowledging and recognising the huge benefits of AD, the future looks much brighter. For instance, the government has recently set out a Green Gas Support Scheme (GGSS) that is funded by a green gas levy. This will encourage increased production of biomethane; one of AD’s main outputs.

As well as the new GGSS, AD operators and investors have access to feed-in tariffs (FiTs) and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), providing them with the financial support needed to get their AD plans off the ground.

Looking ahead

It’s no secret that heating up the UK requires a significant amount of energy. Current methods contain high levels of carbon, so, providing a green alternative like biomethane that can be injected directly into the grid enables decarbonisation.

Looking forward, AD’s success will come from further investment and increased support mechanisms for biomethane injection facilities. Energy market movements are also working in AD’s favour, with a significant spike in investment throughout the first half of 2021. This interest has been propelled by the government’s long-term tariffs and financial support packages. Clearly, AD is a healthy long-term investment. Investor interest is invaluable for the growth of AD, creating a more a credible reputation within the green energy sector and beyond. Wider UK government incentives are also beneficial for the AD sector. Government commitment to the roll out of increased household and business food waste collections by 2023 will see a significant increase in feedstock for AD sites, further securing its longevity.