To say that it has been a busy time for UK politics would be an understatement! With the ongoing global pandemic, the Brexit transition period ending on the 31st of December, plus the snap election at the end of last year, it is understandable why 2020 has seen little progress for many policy commitments. We would like to share four policy highlights, crucial to the future of biomethane plants, which we are still waiting on.

These policies are key to the UK meeting its net-zero target in 2050. So, if you are not into carbon reduction strategies – read no further!

The Energy White Paper

With the last Energy White Paper published a decade ago, the new paper was originally due in 2019. The initial deadline was delayed following the amendment in the Climate Change Act 2008, for the UK to become net-zero by 2050. Since then, the general election and the pandemic have pushed the release date even further. Taking these delays into consideration, Alok Sharma (Secretary of State for BEIS) said that the Energy White paper would be published with the Heat Strategy and Building Strategy, in line with the Autumn Budget – the same budget which was recently cancelled by Chancellor Rushi Sunak.

The scope of the paper is vast, with a plan to put the UK on a path to decarbonising the entire energy system. The white paper will seek to bring about investment into renewable generation, smart grids, battery technology, carbon capture and storage, as well as the decarbonisation of transport and heat. Biomethane is a reliable method for reducing CO2 emissions and one of the few that can make an impact on decarbonising heat and transport. Biomethane plants are also able to capture almost pure CO2 for various uses. Considering these factors, we are keen to see to what extent the UK government visualises AD’s role in decarbonising the UK.

The Heat Strategy

Heat accounts for over a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions and is considered a problematic sector to decarbonise. The spring budget announcements indicated a commitment from the government to support the growth of biomethane plants in the UK, as part of their heat strategy. The Green Gas Support Scheme will replace the RHI, expected to deliver an additional 2.4 TWh each year by 2026. Our analysis explains why the GGSS seriously underestimates the potential of biomethane. With consultations on the GGSS closed, the Heat Strategy will outline how the GGSS will contribute to the overall heat strategy leading up to 2050 (including the Clean Heat Grant). With policy increasingly steering AD plants towards decarbonising heat, we are eager to see the publication of the Heat Strategy – now expected to be delayed until early next year.

Standing at the top of a digester tank at Egmere Energy Renewables in Holkham

The Transport Decarbonisation Plan

Transport is now the highest emitting sector in the UK. GHG emissions have reduced by only 3% between 1990 and 2018, currently contributing to 28% of all UK GHG emissions. Urgent policy action is needed to decarbonise transport. The UK’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan will be a UK’s first. It will set out in detail what government, business and society will need to do to deliver the significant emissions reductions needed across all modes of transport.

Biomethane from AD offers a low carbon fuel in the form of Bio-CNG or Bio-LNG. The fuels are considered alternatives to biodiesel and bioethanol with an 81% reduction in WTW emissions compared to diesel when using secondary feedstocks such as waste and residues. Independent decarbonisation pathways predict that biomethane use will be focused on HGVs and shipping. Meanwhile, lighter vehicles are likely to be electrified due to the low energy density of batteries. For long-distance routes, bio-LNG is currently the most competitive low carbon fuel.

Biomethane is a promising low carbon fuel for HGVs and shipping. The current concern for biomethane as a transport fuel relates to the number of refuelling stations that will be available. However, the number of CNG and LNG refuelling stations are rapidly expanding (see this map for details). Furthermore, we are beginning to see a number of private companies committing to biomethane for transport, making the market look more and more attractive. John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose and Partners have pledged to run their entire fleet of over 500 trucks, used for store deliveries, on biomethane by 2028. Another example is the investment from First Bus for 77 Biomethane buses in Bristol, including a biomethane refuelling station. Considering the availability of technology and the ability to utilise existing infrastructure, we imagine that biomethane will be present in the plan.

The Environment Bill

From 2022, the Environment Bill will seek to introduce legally binding targets relating to nature, water, air and waste. The most obvious impact of the Environment Bill to AD will be the quality of storage for silage and end product digestate. The bill will also enable the regularity and availability of an important feedstock source – food waste. Under the new bill, food waste collection will be mandatory and collected ‘at least’ once a week. With much of the food waste likely to be directed to AD, this offers an important feedstock stream for biomethane plants.

The Environment Bill had been making good progress in becoming an act of parliament until March when the pandemic took centre stage but progress has now resumed. The Environment Bill is currently at the committee stage where each clause is scrutinised. If all goes well, the bill will soon move to the report stage, followed by a third reading before finally passing to the House of Lords for amendments. Progress can be tracked here.

Written by Finn Boykew
– Policy Advisor at Future Biogas