UK set to invest in waste innovation to drive decarbonisation
Innovation very much lies at the heart of the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS), which sets out how the Government will invest £2.65 billion over the next four years to support the latest solutions to decarbonise the UK economy.
Around 10% of that funding pot will target natural resources and business/industry – two areas that include waste and resource efficiency.
Specifically, ministers are looking to encourage the development of breakthrough technologies – both to mitigate the environmental impacts of existing waste treatment and disposal options such as anaerobic digestion (AD) and landfill, and to maximise resource value and productivity through adopting more circular design, manufacture and takeback systems.
4% of the UK's Greenhouse Gas Emissions were attributed to Waste Management
The CGS notes that since 1990 emissions from waste management have fallen by 73%, but suggests more needs to be done by the sector if the UK is to meet its new goal of achieving zero avoidable waste by 2050 cost-effectively. In 2015, 4% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were attributed to waste management – 91% of which was predominantly from landfill methane.
The Government intends to support new approaches to managing landfill emissions – such as the optimisation of surface methane oxidation. The University of Southampton is working on an interesting project in this area, looking at the potential application of methane biofilter technology.
Funds will also be used to investigate ways to accelerate the breakdown of landfilled waste to improve the quality and quantity of captured landfill gas. The CGS notes that accelerating methane production in the early life of a landfill site could also reduce the length of aftercare required.
Reducing methane emissions associated with AD is another priority, and the Government is keen to ensure that best practice is followed when spreading digestate onto land to keep ammonia release to a minimum. The development of technologies to improve the extraction of ammonia and phosphate will be key – as will ADBA’s forthcoming Best Practice scheme to improve operational performance in the sector.
Outside of AD, the development of advanced biofuels made from municipal solid waste (MSW) will be kickstarted through the Department for Transport (DfT) £22 million future fuels project for freight transport and aviation – sectors which have been traditionally difficult to decarbonise. The Government believes low carbon transport fuels made from waste materials could be worth £600 million a year to the British economy by 2030.
...14% of the UK’s renewable electricity was generated from waste materials – enough to power 2.3 million homes.
British Airways’ partnership with Suez and Velocys will be one to watch in this space. The project, which intends to apply for DfT funding, aims to build a commercial scale waste-to-jet-fuel plant using gasification technology with Suez managing the supply of waste feedstock. Outside of the UK, Virgin Atlantic’s venture with LanzaTech to turn waste gases from steel mills into low carbon aviation fuel is already at an advanced stage; LanzaTech are hoping to replicate the process with gasified MSW.
Expect demand for electricity generated from waste to also grow. The CGS notes that in 2015, 14% of the UK’s renewable electricity was generated from waste materials – enough to power 2.3 million homes. A consultation has already been launched on a new industrial heat recovery programme, and the CGS makes reference to working closely with the National Infrastructure Commission, whose recent interim report highlights the role of waste-derived biogas in helping to reduce emissions from heat and transport.