UK set to see surge in biomethane plants

Article by Adam Duckett

THE UK is set to see a 50% rise in biomethane plants operating by 2020, with as much as £400m (US$525m) invested in response to government incentives, says industry body.

A government-introduced tariff guarantee for plants commissioned by 31 January 2020 is set to see the number of plants operating in the UK climb from 98 now to 146, says the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association. The plants take organic waste destined for landfill and convert it into gas that can be used to heat homes, displacing fossil fuel sources.

“We are expecting as many as 50 new biomethane facilities to be built over the coming 18 months as a result of the changes, with an accompanying investment of £300–400m” said association CEO Charlotte Morton.

In response, the gas distribution networks (GDNs) – Cadent, SGN, Northern Gas Networks, and Wales & West Utilities – are working together to help investors get their plants commissioned in time and connected to supply biomethane into the national gas grid.

Tina Hawke, design manager at Cadent, said: “The GDNs are working to standardise a number of elements of the design and commissioning process. We’ve set up a working group, through the Energy Networks Association, to develop a GDN Standard Specification.”

This will provide consistency in applications irrespective of which network investors are seeking to connect to.

“We are also exploring having a single, consolidated GDN project commissioning plan. Historically, we know that projects do not commission to the original dates. With the constraints on resources for this phase of projects, and with the high risk that many will seek to commission during the last quarter of 2019, we need to consider and manage our resources efficiently and effectively, to reduce any risk of not meeting the 31 January 2020 deadline.”

Responding to the news, Claire Perry, UK minister for energy and clean growth said she was delighted to see organisations seizing the opportunity to tackle climate change.

In biomethane plants, organic materials such as food and agricultural wastes are fed into anaerobic digestors where they are broken down by microorganisms through a series of four steps – hydrolysis, acidogenesis, acetogenesis, and methanogenesis – to produce biomethane, carbon dioxide and digestate. Plant configurations vary, using wet or dry processes; single, double or multiple digestors; continuous or batch flow systems; and vertical tank or horizontal plug flow.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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