THE focus of anaerobic digestion (AD) continues to be on renewable energy, with very little emphasis put on the nutrient-rich by-product which the process produces.

The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) national conference in London last month heard the UK cannot afford not to recycle nutrients and organic matter.

Experts urged the Government to increase its focus on the wider benefits of AD, alongside energy generation.

Environmentalist Tony Juniper said: “We have pretty much all the technologies we need for the circular economy. AD has absolutely immense potential.”

Patrick Holden, founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust, agreed, saying the Government must incentivise the use of nutrient recycling, to allow more of the benefits to go back to the land.

He said: “There is certainly not a business case for nutrient recycling at the moment – renewable energy incentives are the only thing.

“Wide adoption of AD will depend on the business case. Given the carbon footprint of artificial fertilisers a carbon price would help.

“We need a clearer vision for how we want our food systems to work.

To think long-term, farmers need support: the business case must be clear.”

Delegates to the conference heard there were often environmental stumbling blocks imposed – in some cases for “no logical reason”.

It comes as the Government announced changes to the way it subsidises renewable energy.

A spokesman for the Renewable Energy Association said: “It is good news support for solar and onshore wind will be reduced, because they are leading the race for cost-competitiveness with fossil fuels.”

But Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “Westminster’s announcement falls short. While I welcome the modest concessions made to the offshore sector, I am concerned that the UK is forfeiting the opportunity to develop this industry – thus losing out on jobs and investment.

“However, the UK’s ambitions for offshore wind, wave and tidal are still pitched too low, and the risk remains that this support will not be sufficient to build capacity in the supply chain and attract the necessary levels of inward investment.”

The Government has also announced it will extend the Renewable Heat Incentive subsidy for heat use for biogas projects with a thermal capacity over 200kW.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s announcement on subsidies to renewable energy: “Additional investments of around £40bn are expected in renewable electricity generation projects up to 2020, following updated contract terms and strike prices published today and wider reforms to the electricity market.

“Sixteen renewable generation projects also reached the next stage of Final Investment Decision Enabling for Renewables (FIDeR) process today, which could be supported either through investment contracts or the enduring Contracts for Difference (CfD) regime.

“There is currently more than 20GW of renewables capacity operational in the UK – a figure that could double by 2020 as a result of the Government’s reforms. We have a very healthy pipeline in key technologies, with a total of almost 11GW of offshore and onshore wind with planning consent and awaiting construction. And if all the 8GW of projects which are proceeding under FIDeR are built through investment contracts or under the enduring CfD regime they could contribute around 30 per cent of the new renewables generation we need by 2020.

“The UK is now on track to meet that target, and will have doubled the amount of electricity generated from renewables from 15 per cent to more than 30 per cent by 2020.

“Energy makes up 58 per cent of the total infrastructure pipeline in Government’s National Infrastructure Plan. Investment in renewables, Carbon Capture and Storage technology, new nuclear and gas is required to replace 10-12 per cent of current power generating capacity, which is due to close over the coming decade.

“The updated contract terms and strike prices will help to build a low-carbon energy mix to keep the lights on, reduce emissions and bring green jobs and growth to the UK.

“The additional investment will generate enough clean power for 10 million homes and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 20 million tonnes.

“Increasing the amount of homegrown renewable energy will boost energy security, reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and support up to 200,000 jobs by 2020.

“In total, these reforms will help to support up to £110bn of additional investment across the electricity sector by 2020, helping to insulate Britain from future world gas price increases and boosting jobs and growth in every region of the UK.”