What is Anaerobic Digestion?

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What is Anaerobic Digestion?

In the UK 14.8 million tons of food was discarded last year, of which 40% (5.92 million tons) was sent to landfill, according to Vision 2020’s most recent study.

Food waste in landfill emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Methane amplifies the greenhouse effect and accelerates global warming, damaging our ecosystem. 

Anaerobic digestion is an environmentally friendly alternative to landfills, which may sound complicated but it is fairly simple to understand. Anaerobic digestion is a natural process which allows microorganisms to break down organic matter, releasing biogas which is then captured and converted into renewable energy. Another byproduct of anaerobic digestion is the production of a fibre that is rich in nutrients and nitrogen, which can be used as fertiliser.

The Process

Euro 6 Fleet vehicles collect your food waste and then directly transport it to our aerobic digestion partner plant. Upon arrival, the food waste is fed into rotating bag splitters to remove any remaining packaging and break the waste into smaller pieces, allowing it to be pumped. 

Once cleared of packaging, the food waste is pasteurised and pumped into temperature controlled digestion tanks void of oxygen. Microorganisms break down the biodegradable material in optimal conditions to digest food effectively, for 30-35 days.

Just like the microorganisms in our stomach, the bacterium in the tanks needs nutrient-rich feedstock, essential vitamins and optimal temperature to thrive. If any oxygen enters the anaerobic digester, it may cause the microorganism to malfunction, which disrupts the process. 

When the digestion procedure is complete, the waste is separated into two different products, biogas and digestate. 

Biogas is captured by a gas holder, where it is held for 72 hours to accumulate. This gas is transported to a generator to create electricity, which is used by the plant and exported to the national grid to provide power to communities. Biogas can also be filtered and used as fuel for vehicles or fed into the national gas to supply facilities. Simultaneously, heat is produced as a byproduct which can be used to heat surrounding buildings. 

Once the potential energy has been released, nutrient-rich digestates are left over, such as nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. These are suitable for fertiliser use, building materials and as an environmentally friendly filler to provide structure to composite plastics.

Benefits of Anaerobic digestion

Anaerobic digestion puts food in the circular economy, returning nutrients into the land and preventing waste from going to landfill which leads to a reduction in green gas emissions, helping curb the consequences of climate change.

Anaerobic digestion can play a key role in supporting the UK in achieving its legally-binding net zero emissions target by 2050.

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