Debate: Biorenewable fuels and fertiliser

'Biorenewable fuel and fertiliser: Realising the potential' took place at FERA, York on 24 March 2010. While the aim of this event was to discuss the increase in uptake of biorenewable fertiliser, and the environmental and financial benefits, the key message seemed to be collective frustration of field experts trying to comply with government legislation and still set up financially viable anaerobic digesters. Event attendees covered a broad spectrum of the biorenewable fuel source industry from Yorkshire water and United Utilities, to farmers and investors interested in anaerobic digester projects at varying scales.

Key speakers, such as Geraint Evans of the National Non-food Crops Centre, discussed the UK's commitment to renewable fuel source uptake at 15% by 2020.

Teresa Hitchcock of DLA Piper discussed the environmental law issues in some detail. She highlighted the increased importance of monitoring 'carbon intensity' instead of carbon emissions, discussing how 'it is very difficult balancing legislation with sustainability', particularly for large emission countries, such as China and the United States.

United Utilities discussed what currently happens to profit made from selling electricity, produced by anaerobic digesters, back to the grid, when customers are paying for sewage removal. How much is given back to the customer in the form of cost reduction? This called into question whether the water companies involved will be 'risk disposers or energy generators'. Speaker, Mark Warsfold stated that 'there must be a fair allocation of risk between the consumer and company' if and when the national grid accepts electricity from anaerobic digesters. The talks led to an exciting panel discussion, with the crucial question being: 'is it currently worth investing in?' This caused much debate between experts in the field, suggesting that biorenewable fuel is still a risky venture, even for those with a thorough understanding of the legislation and financial commitments.

The key to getting past these legislative barriers seems to lie with industry and government working closely with scientists in the field of anaerobic digestion. As Stephen Smith of Imperial College noted in his talk, 'without science there is an inhibition of progress, it is like working in the dark'.

Estella Shipton, Communications Officer, SCI Yorkshire and the Humber Committee

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