Anaerobic Digestion Deployment

This Guest Blog is by Lucy Hopwood, Head of Biomass and Biogas at leading international Bioeconomy Consultants NNFCC and looks at the UK AD market trends

Over the past decade the UK anaerobic digestion (AD) industry has moved beyond its traditional use in the sewage treatment sector, with the number of plants utilising food waste and agricultural feedstock rising from just a few to well over one hundred. With almost 350 projects planned, a recent report from NNFCC entitled ‘Anaerobic Digestion Deployment in the United Kingdom’ shows that the development pipeline for AD in the UK remains strong.

The report demonstrates that we are approaching 140 operational AD plants in the UK, just over half of which are using predominantly food and industrial waste feedstock, with the remainder using mostly farm-based feedstock such as energy crops and animal slurries. There are a further 341 sites undergoing development around the UK, the larger share of which are farm-based.

Biogas Map AD Deployment. Click to Enlarge

In 2011, the UK Government published the ‘Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan’, setting a vision for the UK AD industry and identifying barriers to deployment. By 2020 it was expected that five million tonnes of food waste and around 20 to 60 million tonnes of animal manures could be used by the AD sector in England alone.

The report demonstrates that we are well on the way to achieving our food waste target, although meeting our expectations for use of animal manures remains far less likely. However, new technologies are now coming to market to improve utilisation of manure feedstock, allowing AD to become a more viable option for livestock farms outside of the dairy sector.

While the UK AD industry has experienced rapid growth over recent years there are many challenges ahead. On account of the difficulties, it is estimated that around 30-50% of AD plants currently under development in the UK will actually complete.

Commonly, biogas produced by AD facilities is combusted in a combined heat and power (CHP) engine to produce heat and electricity. However, new technological developments have enabled the clean-up of the gas to produce pure biomethane which can then be directly injected into the national gas grid; although this remains a comparatively expensive option, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) offers favourable support.

AD represents a very dynamic sector of the UK’s renewable energy industry. NNFCC continues to monitor the sector and is pleased to be working closely with investors, developers and policymakers providing market data and business advice enabling the continued growth of the sector.


We would like to thank Lucy for this interesting article. If you have any questions relating to the content please post them below or contact NNFCC at 

6 thoughts on “Anaerobic Digestion Deployment”

  • Trevor Ward

    Lucy, thanks for the post, it's very interesting. It appears to me that we are in a "Biogas Boom" with the uncertainty around Russia / Ukraine and the bad press of Shale Gas it seems Biogas is a good bet for UK energy security.

    It's often billed as environmentally friendly or a "green energy" but recent reports have shown that AD plants that use purpose grown Maize etc can actually have a negative impact on the environment due to farming and transportation process of maize to AD plant. What are your thoughts on this?

  • James Lloyd

    Trevor. The negative impact assumes a stand alone crop that replaces a food crop. It is worth reading the ADBA Energy Crop best pract doc recently published for detailed info. But currently, in the UK, we "break", "catch" or "cover" crop in between food crop rotations. These are often to capture carbon or other nutrients, to prevent erosion or control diseases and weeds. These crops are simply ploughed back in. If suitable biogas generating crops were used then there would be limited additional energy/ carbon impact and we could generate significant energy.

    Worth also noting that the alcohol and especially whiskey industry consumes some 2.5 million tonnes of UK grown Barley each year but I don't hear people bemoaning the negative impact on the environment due to transport and fertiliser of this crop - and it would be hard to argue the generality that renewable gas is a better social/ environmental product that socially debilitating alcohol?

    Finally, we only develop part agri-waste/ part energy crop plants (agri-wastes being by-products of other farming processes such as manure, straw, chaff, off cuts, waste silage etc). These waste are inconsistent and hard to fund against - the baseline of a secure energy crop on a 5-year contract facilitates the funding of plants that then also process these farming by-products that would otherwise go to waste.

    If you want to carry on the conversation drop me an email or link on LinkedIn or drop me a line on the website.

  • Pradeep Singh

    My knowledge of UK media is they like to focus on negatives not good news stories! Media has a lot to play in people's view on Shale Gas and sadly people belive what they read.

    In my views Biogas can only be good thing, turning waste to energy! In India we too are doing lots of Biogas with General Motors leading the way.

    Thank you Mr James Lloyd.

  • Avril Banks

    There are a number of well proven biogas plants that have good utilisation from manure and slurries but the current government incentive through Feed In Tariff has pushed investment towards the 500kW scale systems, this requires significant dairy or cattle numbers which only the larger enterprises can support.
    The technology is available for efficient conversion of these materials to biogas and technologies such as agriKomp are operating on manures/ slurries in the UK and have been proven to be viable business and investment oportunities.
    More needs to be done however to incentivise herds at the 300-400 head scale, in most cases these will require changes to the way the animals are managed and the fodder crops grown, as well as development of the biogas infrastructure itself. Greater incentives in the FIT for the sub 250kW systems would make these smaller scale biogas units and inherent alterations to the farm operation more viable and help the UK produce a more sustainable and resource efficient on-farm management for slurry and FYM

  • Michael Walsh

    Bio fuels are here to stay and will be a very big part of our energy future. Great post and some very interesting comments, well done guys.

  • Graham webb

    My main concern is the amount of maize grown, taking land out of food production, also pushing land rent up to uneconomical levels for usual cropping. Can this be truly 'green' with the amount of fuel consumed in harvesting and transporting maize.

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