Farm-scale biogas needs more support

More government support should be directed towards farm-scale biogas schemes, rather than large commercial projects, says the Renewable Energy Association.

Just 15 biogas plants are currently operational in the UK. If the DEFRA target of 1000 by 2020 is to be met, the government must provide more incentive for smaller-scale farm systems, the REA’s David Collins said.

“The government is conscious of energy security and meeting energy targets and has been too concerned with megawatts. Most of the funding so far has gone to big plants.”

Allowing biogas plants to qualify for double ROCs (worth £100/MWh) had provided a welcome boost to the sector, but he said many plants using food waste still relied on gate fees to make it financially worthwhile. “Farm systems are generally using their own lower-energy feedstock and don’t have gates fees, therefore they have to go for scale instead.”

But not supporting smaller-scale plants overlooked other sustainability issues, such as how farm-scale anaerobic digestion systems could help farmers comply with new slurry storage requirements, or provide an alternative to artificial fertiliser (i.e. the digestate).

By contrast, in Germany 4,000 biogas plants were operational, with more planned, and most of which were smaller farm-scale units, Mr Collins said. “The average size in Germany is half to a third of the size of plants being built here.”

He said the REA was working with the NFU to persuade government to give more incentive to farm systems.

REA colleague Paul Thompson said that, alongside biogas, the UK was also well-placed to meet the government’s target of 10% energy used in transport to be renewable by 2020, but agreed there was still a way to go for the industry to get off the ground. “Less than 10% of biofuels used in transport are UK produced. The government has a lot of decisions to make on how it implements its targets.”

As a reflection of the growing interest in farm-scale bioenergy projects, this year’s European Bioenergy Expo and Conference on 8-10 October will have a strong farmer emphasis. The event, which will be held at Stoneleigh Park, is expected to attract up to 10,000 visitors and over 200 exhibitors. See www.ebec.co.uk