Posted: 30 July, 2014. Written by REAL
Pig poo replaces cow pats as stability baseline in biofertiliser tests
The market for certified, safe, high quality biofertiliser for UK farming is set to grow following the publication today of the updated PAS 110 specification . Operators of anaerobic digestion plants that meet the criteria in the PAS 110 can use and trade digestate as “biofertiliser” certified under REAL’s Biofertiliser Certification Scheme (BCS) .
Digestate is a co-product of anaerobic digestion (AD), which is the process of converting food waste, farm residues and energy crops into low carbon biogas for electricity, heating and transport fuel. AD has grown quickly in recent years, with 130 on-farm, food waste and industrial AD plants now operational in the UK, and over 340 projects currently under development, according to a report published in April by the NNFCC .
Key changes to the PAS 110 coming into effect today  include:
REAL Chief Executive Virginia Graham said:
“Everyone involved in AD has learned a lot about digestate as the industry has developed. Working closely with industry, we have used these lessons to improve the PAS 110 for producers, end-users and the environment. The changes announced today mean that more AD operators will be able to use or trade their digestate as certified biofertiliser, whilst environmental protections will be stronger than before.”
Benefits of digestate
Biofertiliser brings substantial environmental benefits. It restores much-needed nutrients, water and organic matter to the soil; it offsets imports of finite, high-carbon mineral fertiliser; and it helps keep food waste out of landfill, where it would otherwise decay and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) recently published a video detailing the benefits of biofertiliser for farmers and the environment .
WRAP also commissioned and funded the review of PAS 110 and the research that underpinned it. WRAP’s Head of Food Resource Management, Ian Wardle, said:
“With the increasing need to deliver sustainable markets for digestate, WRAP has worked closely with the other PAS110 steering group members to ensure that the revised specification continues to deliver a safe, quality-driven product.”
The main economic drivers for AD in the UK are renewable energy support schemes, such as the Feed-in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive, and gate fees, which are the sums paid by local authorities or food businesses for disposal of their food waste. Similarly, as the digestate market is still young compared to more established soil improvers like compost, AD operators can end up paying farmers to take away their digestate – although it is expected that as awareness, confidence and demand for quality digestate increase, it will increasingly be sold at a positive price that better reflects its value as an environmentally friendly fertiliser. By using digestate on their crops (including from their own AD plant if they have one), farmers can save money as they don’t need to buy as much costly mineral fertiliser.
NFU Environment Policy Advisor Anna Simpson said:
“Digestate from AD is a valuable fertiliser and can help meet the nutrient requirements of crops and offset the environmental and financial cost of manufactured fertiliser. The PAS 110 helps farmers ensure that the digestate they accept and use is of a specified standard and ensure the quality of the end material.”
Benefits of certified biofertiliser
BCS certification gives a number of commercial advantages to digestate producers. For instance, BCS-certified AD operators are often preferred partners for local authorities in Scotland and Wales looking to recycle their food waste collections, because BCS certification means food waste AD can count towards their recycling targets. Similarly, farmers tend to charge less to take away certified biofertiliser rather than uncertified digestate, because they know biofertiliser is a high quality product that they can spread to land without having to pay for waste-handling controls or environmental permits .
Additionally, because the BCS is a mark of safety and quality, food retailers and restaurants striving for quality and environmental responsibility tend to prefer produce grown using certified biofertiliser rather than uncertified digestate (or high-carbon mineral fertiliser).
Red Tractor’s farm assurance standards require farmers to ensure that organic materials are applied to land in a way that minimises the risk of contamination or pollution. Red Tractor Chief Executive David Clarke said:
“We believe that the new PAS110 provides significant assurances that farmers can use high quality bio-fertiliser to produce arable crops that are safe for use as both food and feed.”
The Renewable Energy Association (REA), REAL’s parent company, is a trade association representing almost 1,000 members across renewable electricity, heating, transport fuels and organics recycling. The REA Biogas Group has almost 200 active members.
REA Chief Executive Dr Nina Skorupska said:
“Digestate should be a central element of any AD enterprise. The more value biofertiliser has as part of a bio-based economy, the stronger the economics of AD projects and the less dependent they will be on Government subsidies. Building confidence in the market for biofertiliser is vital for realising AD’s excellent potential for low carbon growth and green jobs in rural businesses.”
15 AD plants across the UK are currently producing home-grown, BCS-certified biofertiliser, from Plymouth in Devon to Dalry in Ayrshire . With the updated PAS 110 now in operation, the volume and quality of certified biofertiliser looks set to increase significantly in the coming months and years.
Distributed by the REA on behalf of REAL.
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Notes to editors