Relief for Businesses as Government Supports Small Scale Renewable Energy
Usually, wind and solar energy tend to grab the headlines when it comes to renewable energy. However there are many less celebrated and un-tapped energy sources that have the potential to reduce businesses’ carbon footprint – waste to energy for example. The combustion of municipal solid waste is one of the most common waste-to-energy applications in the United States of America, as well as farm waste or waste water to energy and landfill gas to energy.
Presently, a large proportion of biodegradable waste such as card, paper, food and green waste is shipped off to landfill sites, where it is broken down in order to release the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a process that composts this waste, and in the absence of oxygen, it produces a biogas that can be converted into electricity and heat. Instead of contributing to climate change though landfilling and incineration, anaerobic digestion produces 100 per cent renewable energy from biodegradable waste.
AD has a number of environmental benefits, and it is an effective and controlled alternative to landfill waste. Almost any organic material can be broken down to produce methane with anaerobic digestion, and the by-product can even be converted into vehicle fuel or added to the national grid to heat homes. AD also produces a liquid and solid residue called digestate which can be used to fertilise land through soil conductors.
In the past, anaerobic digestion was limited to small, in-house farming processes; however AD is now used widely used across Europe. For example, Denmark has many farms that have built AD refineries, which produce electricity and heating for thousands of local villages and towns. Furthermore, biogas plants have also been built in Germany, Austria and Sweden to produce vehicle fuel for fleets of busses and public transport.
Outside Europe, there are several thousand small scale plants housed in Thailand and India which are used to power local businesses, and the biogas can even be sold to neighbouring nations. Additionally, as the AD can be used to process specific source separated waste such as food, the digestate can also be used as a soil improver.
Currently, most of the food and garden waste collected in the UK is composted by councils, however anaerobic digestion has the ability to reduce emissions by generating clean energy. Over time, this process has the ability to offset fossil fuel power station emissions, and therefore produces a greater overall carbon saving than composting.
Did you know that if just 5.5 million tonnes of biodegradable food waste was treated by the AD process, the UK could generate an average of 600 GWh of electricity every year? That means that over 164,000 households could be powered by renewable energy. If we compare AD with composting the same amount of food waste, AD has the potential to save over half a million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Furthermore, compared to conventional sewage treatment techniques, AD treatment reduces CO2 emissions by 16 per cent!
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