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Image with text: "2020 anaerobic digestions lost year".

2020 A Lost Year for New Anaerobic Digestion in the UK

2020 has been a lost year for new anaerobic digestion plant capacity in the UK.

A few years ago there were UK biogas plants starting construction at the rate of at least two a month, and the industry was even then disappointed and thought the rate should be higher. It was hoped that at least in 2020 with the UK's Brexit departure set in stone at year's end, the UK industry might return (later in the year) to the rate of progress seen pre-2016.

It was in 2016 that the withdrawal of most UK government support for the technology began to stall new project starts which had been running at double that rate or higher for several years. Many will blame the COVID-19 pandemic for the poor performance this year, but in other industries such as in the UK wind-powered energy sector, turbine construction activity has continued.

In the last 2 to 3 years the UK government has made increasingly encouraging announcements about supporting the production of renewable energy production in areas of high potential such as the AD industry. But action seems to have been almost entirely lacking.

It seems that while Brexit talks continue to occupy the cabinet, much more important UK decisions will continue un-resolved, let alone will any real progress be made:

  • on climate change pledges, and
  • the benefits offered by a vibrant biogas industry.
  • The industry can also, let's not forget, generate many jobs at a time when these are so badly needed. At least 20 UK AD plants must be sitting with planning permission granted, and can surely be “shovel ready” in no time if only decisions are made to return confidence to the UK AD sector.

But, we are not about to let other European governments off the hook here. Their renewable energy performance when judged against the promises made during the Paris Accord 2015, and general statements made subsequently toward Net-Zero 2050 goals is also very disappointing.

To make our point more clearly, we are pleased to be able to republish the following article which explains the above statement and was first featured in the [RE]fuel Report, Issue 156, on 30 November:

[RE]fuel Article Starts:


EU countries remain far behind FQD requirements, EEA data shows

EU countries remain far behind on their requirement to reduce the intensity of greenhouse gases in the fuel they produce by 6% versus the 2010 level by the end of this year, according to figures released by the European Environment Agency in late November.

Although worrying, the figures are lagging and it will be two years from now before it is clear that countries have fallen short of the end-2020 deadline.

Figures published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) for 2018, the year that the most recent data is available, show that nearly all Member States are well behind Fuel Quality Directive
(FQD) requirements, with data for the EU as a whole in 2018 showing that the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels across the EU have fallen by 3.7% compared to the 2010 baseline, mostly due to
the use of biofuels.

“Progress varied greatly across Member States, but almost all need to take swift action to meet the 2020 target of 6%,”

the EEA said in a statement to accompany the data.

The EEA said the fall in emission intensity of road transport fuels between 2017 and 2018 can be attributed mainly to a rise (from 4.5% to 5.2%) in the proportion of biofuels used, because biofuels
have a lower emission intensity than fossil fuels.

However, the heavy reliance on crop-based biofuels that year partly offset the benefits that could have been achieved, namely a 4% rather than a 3.7% reduction in emission intensity by 2018, the
Commission added.

“This increase in biofuel emission intensity was due to an increase in the use of oil crops, which generally have a higher emission intensity than other feedstocks, in biofuel production.”

Compliance with the 6% FQD does not consider emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) but the EEA said that if ILUC is taken into account, the average GHG emission intensity of fuels
consumed in 2018 is only 2.1% lower than in 2010.

[RE]fuel Article Ends:


It is clear that most of the reduction has been gained from crop-based biofuels, and this is itself a form of fuel production which although renewable by its general nature has been heavily criticized and is being phased-out globally due to the fact that:

  • while it is undoubtedly a lower carbon-emitting energy source than fossil fuel sources, including natural gas, it isn't particularly low carbon-emitting
  • government subsidies for crop-based biofuels have been heavily criticized for their suspected perverse effect in raising food prices. In principle, how can it make sense for governments which say they intend to keep food prices low, to continue to subsidize farmers to take a food crop (often maize -sweetcorn) off the food market to use it to make fuel?

The UK biogas industry, in particular, which produces a low output of crop-based biofuels which in recent years is considered to amount to no more than a 1% use of the national maize crop is tired of being roundly criticised for the use of food crops in this way.

While some older farms in the UK continue to use some food crop in their feed mix, those are operations set-up many years ago and are grandfathered in upon funding agreements due to end in the next few years. Those AD plants are a small and diminishing part of the UK industry.

For many years the UK AD industry has been an industry based upon the use of AD technology to process all forms of waste biomass, and when maize is used as a feedstock it is used in such a way that the waste (stalks, leaves etc.) form the feed for the biogas process.

Let's be clear, the global biogas industry projections by bodies such as ADBA and the WBA for the contribution of up to 11% contibution (which we have reported previously here) that biogas can make to reducing carbon emissions from transport before 2050, are based upon biodegradable waste biomass feedstocks, and not food crops.

To explain this more fully, the energy industry distinguishes between the many sources of biofuel through the concept of “generations of biofuels”. Read on to find out more:


What are Crop Based Biofuels?

Crop Based Biofuels are first-generation biofuels.

These are fuels made from food crops grown on arable land. The crop's sugar, starch, or oil content is converted into biodiesel or ethanol, using transesterification, or yeast fermentation.

via Wikipedia

What Generation of Biofuels are Destined for Use in Producing Biogas and by Upgrading to Become Biomethane?

Those fuels will be the second generation biofuels using current and future anaerobic digestion process technologies.

Wikipedia defines second generation biofuels as:

Second-generation biofuels are fuels made from lignocellulosic or woody biomass, or agricultural residues/waste. The feedstock used to make the fuels either grow on arable land but are byproducts of the main crop, or they are grown on marginal land. Second-generation feedstocks include straw, bagasse, perennial grasses, jatropha, waste vegetable oil, municipal solid waste and so forth.

There are also third and fourth generation biofuels the technologies for which are not so far advanced in their development.

Image with text: "2020 anaerobic digestions lost year".


Conclusion

We hope that the sections following the [RE]fuel article above explain fully the fact that most of the reduction so far in carbon emissions by European nations has not been from anaerobic digestion and the use of upgraded biogas production (biomethane).

It is hoped that government actions throughout the globe will soon begin to remedy this by encouraging investment in their anaerobic digestion industries.

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