Rubbish offers hope of meeting green energy targets

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The Independent Online

Britain could generate as much as 3 per cent of its electricity needs from rubbish, industry experts have estimated, as the Government hunts for a way to meet the European Commission's tough new targets on renewable energy.

The Government and local authorities are investigating the potential of anaerobic digestion, a technology that uses natural bacteria to break down organic material such as food waste and farm slurry, producing liquid fertiliser and a gas that can be used to generate electricity, or be piped into the gas grid, or turned into fuel to power vehicles.

The process also generates heat that can be diverted to warm nearby homes or businesses.

Anaerobic digestion is used in Austria, Denmark and Germany, which alone has nearly 4,000 plants in operation generating some 1.4 per cent of the country's electricity. Germany also aims to generate 10 per cent of its gas needs through the production of biogas from anaerobic digestion by 2030.

David Collins, a biodigestion expert at the Renewable Energy Association, said: "Three per cent is an optimistic target; it has taken the Germans 10 years to get where they are now. But over that time, we could achieve it."

At present, only three commercial-scale anaerobic plants operate in the UK – in Bedford, Shropshire and Devon – but that number is expected to at least double this year and planning authorities are already considering proposals for between 35 and 40 new facilities.

Biogen, which runs the plant in Bedford, predicts that Britain could host as many as 2,000 facilities around the country over time. It wants to build 100 sites in the next seven to 10 years.