‘There’s no net zero without biogas’

The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) is asking government to give anaerobic digestion ‘its rightful place’ as a net zero solution. Here, ADBA explains why. 

“There’s no net zero without biogas” has been a motto for the anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas industry for some time now – both in the UK and globally.

First used at the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA)’s National Conference in 2019, it captures the significant role that AD can play in helping the UK achieve its ambition to reach net zero emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2050 – a role demonstrated in ADBA’s 2019 report Biomethane: the Pathway to 2030.(1)

The UK biogas industry has put pen to paper, making a concrete commitment to delivering on this sector’s potential. Last month, 49 AD organisations led by ADBA (2) submitted a UK Biogas Industry Climate Declaration to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which they call for the UK government to support them in helping the UK meet its climate change targets.

ADBA’s initiative follows in the footsteps of the World Biogas Association (WBA) – of which ADBA is a member – which presented a Biogas Industry Climate Change Commitment Declaration on behalf of the global biogas community to the UNFCCC at COP25 in Madrid in November 2019.

On the same day – 24 June – the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published its Progress Report to Parliament 2021, which highlights a huge gap between Government ambition and policy reality.

This was no accident: “AD and biogas alone can make up 30% of the 5th Carbon Budget shortfall identified by the CCC by 2030”, says ADBA Chief Executive Charlotte Morton. “This includes mitigating especially harmful methane emissions from organic wastes.

“However, we can only deliver this if the British Government unlocks the current policy barriers to industry growth. Our Declaration provides a clear set of actions the Prime Minister needs to implement to unleash our sector’s potential.”

Critical asks for industry growth 

In the Declaration, ADBA and the other 48 signatories call on the British Government and authorities in cities, regions and nations of the UK to unlock barriers to the growth of the industry so that it can deliver on its climate change mitigation potential, in particular addressing the especially harmful methane emissions which both the IEA and UNEP have said must be reduced this decade.

This would not just help address the most serious issue the world faces today, but also help the government achieve its levelling up agenda – the industry would create 60,000 jobs all around the UK.

These policy asks are both holistic and sectoral. As an industry, AD straddles across the energy, transport, agriculture and waste management sectors, which means that it is impacted by policy decisions from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department (BEIS), the Department of Transport (DfT) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) – as well as the Treasury.

These government departments often work in silos and issue policies which create inconsistencies that seriously hamper the AD industry development.

The first ask of the UK Declaration is therefore for Downing Street to ensure a coordinated approach to AD across all those departments to create an AD and green gas policy framework that brings their work streams together into a cohesive support strategy for industry growth.

“A comprehensive strategy would give much needed investor confidence to unlock the industry’s full potential following a period of stop-start policy that has created a great deal of uncertainty” says Charlotte Morton. “The strategy will enable the sector to capture all available methane emitting organic wastes to deliver its full decarbonisation potential and other associated benefits.”

The Declaration then highlights what the AD industry needs to optimise the delivery of GHG savings through AD across the transport, agriculture, and waste management sectors.

In transport, the signatories urge government to support the use of biomethane by recognising it as a leading low-carbon fuel to decarbonise Heavy Good Vehicles (HGV) operations. They also demand better investment incentives towards the development of new biomethane plants and a refuelling infrastructure.

Uncertainty regarding the government’s decarbonisation methodology has been delaying action. Over the next 15 to 20 years, biomethane will be essential to reduce the carbon footprint of HGVs – it is ready to produce and ready to use.

Technological barriers currently prevent the ability of alternative low carbon solutions, such as electricity and hydrogen, from tackling these heavier modes of transport.

The Government’s backing requested by the signatories will give industry the confidence to invest into necessary refuelling infrastructure and engine modification. The current incentive for biomethane as a transport fuel, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), has generally been successful, cutting annual emissions by 6.5 MtCO2e each year[1] with minimal government spending.

Uncertainty regarding the government’s decarbonisation methodology has been delaying action. Over the next 15 to 20 years, biomethane will be essential to reduce the carbon footprint of HGVs – it is ready to produce and ready to use.

However, its design prevents it from incentivising the deployment of new AD plants and the production of additional biomethane. Fundamentally, any support must guarantee a minimum price for the biomethane produced, rewarding plants for the provision of essential low-carbon fuel.

In agriculture, the signatories call for the introduction of a tariff premium for the AD treatment of manures and slurries and a renewable biofertiliser obligation.

Manures and slurries emit methane if not recycled by AD. However, current policies do not incentivise AD plants to treat these low biogas yielding feedstocks as all subsidies focus on AD’s energy generation potential rather than on its waste management services.

A tariff premium would correct this policy issue. A renewable fertiliser obligation would create a stronger market for digestate (3), among other renewable fertilisers, and would help displace the use by farmers of energy- and carbon-intensive artificial fertilisers, thus contributing to the decarbonisation of the agricultural sector.

For waste management, the signatories ask policy makers to support small businesses and community projects in developing a circular economy, using AD to transform local waste into local heat and power. They also want ministers to establish material hierarchies for all organic wastes, with AD as the optimal recycling technology.

Within its food and drinks material hierarchy, advisory body WRAP has already identified AD as the preferred technology for treating food waste that cannot be prevented or redistributed.

Similar waste hierarchies should now be developed for all organic waste streams to help raise awareness and provide a clear direction for future waste management of manures and slurries, wastewater and other organic waste streams.

Additionally, the signatories urge government to target innovation funding to achieve a step change in performance and reduce, if not eliminate, the need for financial support for the sector and improve its international competitiveness.

AD and COP26

As the UK prepares to host CO26, the UK Biogas Industry Climate Declaration offers an opportunity for the British Prime Minister to show leadership in supporting those technologies that will not only help reduce GHG emissions, but also enable the development of a long term, circular bioeconomy based on the recycling of all organic wastes into valuable energy and soil restoration resources. This will also encourage other countries to follow in his footsteps.

When submitting its global declaration at COP25 in 2019, the WBA aimed to ensure that every Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) integrated biogas into its strategy.  ADBA and the other 48 signatories similarly hope that their initiative will encourage the British government to give biogas and AD technologies the place they deserve in achieving Net Zero by 2050.

  • ADBA’s Biomethane: the Pathway to 2030, published in 2019, established that the AD industry could cut annual UK emissions by 6% by 2030. However, to do so, it needs a coherent and supportive policy strategy across the various departments involved (BEIS, Defra, DfT, Treasury). The Declaration therefore defines what is required from government to unlock the industry’s full potential – fully deployed, the industry would also create 60,000 new jobs.
  • The 49 signatories to the UK AD and Biogas Industry Climate Declaration are: Aardvark EM, ADBA, AcrEnergy, Adapt Biogas, Agri Environmental Group, ALG Biogas, Alltech, Amur, Bennamann, Birch Solutions, Black Dog Biogas, Blackline Safety Europe, Brightlight Energy, CCm Technologies, Ceres Energy, CooperÖstlund, Earth Capital, Eco2, ECONWARD, Ekogea UK, Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham, Fisher German, Gegan Solutions, Greenlane Biogas, HoSt Bio-Energy UK, Landia (UK), Limelight Energy, Malaby Biogas, Marches Biogas, Merrivale Energy, Monostore, Northumbrian Water Group, Nova Q, OMEX Environmental, Privilege Finance, Rob Heap Consulting, Rockscape Energy, SLR Consulting, Sterling Pharma Solutions, SYSADVANCE, Target Renewables, United Utilities, Verdant Biotech, Warrens-Emerald Biogas, Wärtsilä Biogas Solutions, WASE, Wehrle Environmental, WELTEC BIOPOWER, QUBE Renewables.
  • Digestate is one of the products of the AD process. Indeed, AD recycles organic wastes into renewable energy (biogas), a low carbon biofertilizer (digestate), bio-CO2, and other valuable bio-products.
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