WRAP publishes report on 2013 UK AD sector and output markets

By Katie Fletcher | January 12, 2015

Last month WRAP published a survey on the U.K. anaerobic digestion (AD) industry. Key findings revealed a 34 percent increase in the total number of operational AD plants between 2012 and 2013, up from 87 to 117 plants. This increased operating capacity by 55 percent, and the organic material processed by 51 percent. Additionally, employment increased 36 percent.

The purpose of the study was to quantify the processing of organic material via AD in the U.K. using a survey of AD operators. The in-depth survey generated estimates of material processed using AD, the capacity of U.K. AD infrastructure, and the nature and volume of the markets available for the outputs.

The methodology used was a telephone survey carried out between February and April of 2014, collecting data on the state of the sector in 2013. Excluding AD facilities used for waste water treatment and sites which took input solely from their associated mechanical biological treatment facilities, the survey classified AD plants into four categories: commercial, industrial, on-farm and demonstration. The response rate was 75 percent, meaning 88 of the 117 sites answered at least some of the survey questions.

The largest increase in the number of operating plants was in the commercial AD sector and on-farm plants. The increased number of plants upped the organic material processed from 1.69 million tons to 2.55 million tons. Upsurges can also be found in all the types of feedstocks. There were increases in separated solid food, liquids, manures and crops, but the largest proportion of the feedstock was food and drink waste. Likewise, the largest source of feedstock was food manufacturers and processers, creating 66 percent of the waste organic material processed. Of the inputs, 38 percent by weight was separated solid food, 30 percent liquids and 31 percent agricultural materials, such as purpose-grown crops and manure.

Another component in the study explored the end use of products. A total of 74 operators responded to this question, and the results showed for whole digestate the destinations varied depending upon the facility type. On-farm facilities used 92 percent of the whole digestate onsite, and the rest provided free of charge (FOC) to off-site users. Commercial facilities reported 19 percent sold to users offsite, 27 percent FOC and 26 percent removed at a cost to the operator.

The survey also looked at what plants had combined-heat-and-power (CHP). The results showed a majority of plants in 2013 were using CHP with very little heat use; 5 percent boiler only. Operators were asked about their electricity output, and 64 facilities reported a total of 460 GWh, an average of 7 GWh per facility.

Respondents were asked the extent to which four specified issues affected their operation. The issues included storage for digestate, markets for digestate, making the most of the heat produced and competition for feedstocks. Eighty-five facilities responded, and the two factors having the greatest impact were the same as 2012 with making the most of heat produced and storage for digestate. However, these factors had both decreased from 2012 results. In contrast, competition for feedstock and markets for digestates increased as an issue in comparison to the prior year.

Other opportunities and threats operators offered in the survey were comprised of positive comments on the use of heat, the potential for growth and greater awareness of technology. Threats included the investment climate, contamination of feedstock, variations in the renewable energy tariffs and regulatory scrutiny.

The full report on the structure of the U.K. AD sector and the markets for its outputs can be downloaded here.