Growing the post anaerobic digestion market

The government’s commitment to increasing the amount of energy produced from waste through anaerobic digestion (AD) is likely to triple the size of the sector over the next five years: but the challenge facing both policy makers and the private sector is how find new markets for the relatively low-value material produced from this process.

One of those leading the search for a much more high-value product is Paul Mathers of WRM, a respected environmental consultancy based in West Yorkshire. An expert in the field, Paul project managed and delivered a series of trials across the country for the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) using compost, AD digestate and manufactured soil.

Paul said that: “While the nutrient-rich AD by-product has been used as a fertiliser or soil conditioner, once the cost of transporting and spreading the material is taken in to account, the value to the producer can be zero, and, in some instances, it can even be a cost. At WRM we are looking at how to create a higher-value product from the waste.”

One of his first steps was to commission a research project by the team at the Biorenewables Development Centre. The two-day intensive investigation of the sector was financed through funds available to the BDC from the European Union and identified a number of possible technologies that could be used by WRM to convert the AD digestate into a much more marketable product.

“It was a very useful exercise and has saved us a lot of time and money mapping out the possibilities,” said Paul, who is now working with BDC on developing some of the ideas identified in the literature review. “The study not only looked at the more established technologies, but also at some of the more novel and emerging process technologies being developed.”

Helen Shiels, one of the Business Development team at BDC said: “We sat down with Paul and identified three key objectives for the study. The first was to identify commercially available or close to market technologies that could be used to convert digestate into a more marketable product for a sector that WRM were looking to penetrate. Second, we wanted to identify the key suppliers and manufacturers of these technologies – and, finally, we wanted to do a SWOT type of analysis of the opportunities and challenges that could be faced in what is still an emerging market through the creation of higher value digestate products.”

She added that the desk-based investigation involved examination of scientific research, public policy documents, market sector analysis, manufacturers reports and even, in some cases, direct conversations with technology providers.

“Our aim is to do a lot of the intellectual leg-work for the client, speeding them through the thicket of information that is out there and distilling it down to a report that is both clear and concise. The information we provide enables clients to make much more informed decisions,” she said.

A measure of the success of the initial contract is that WRM and the BDC are now working together to take this first piece of research to the next level – leading, eventually, to the development of a fit-for-purpose, higher value use for digestates.

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