Biogas is given 'official' backing

5th June 2014

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Labour’s shadow energy minister, Caroline Flint, is now officially a convert to biogas. She said recently that biogas would be a priority for a new Labour administration, but that the committee on climate change and the National Grid would be tasked to report by the end of 2015 on the potential in the UK for gases produced by the breakdown of any organic matter.

I think this is potentially quite a significant statement. The debate on gas and its future has, over recent years, run along depressingly well-worn tramlines. On the one hand, we are told that gas is the fuel of the future, and that it will replace coal to generate power and reduce emissions. And, if we frack half of southern and north west England, we can substitute the UK’s dwindling North Sea gas supplies and push down prices.

On the other hand, we are told we must foreswear gas. It may be cleaner than coal, but it still emits a lot of carbon, and if we mortgage our future energy supplies to gas we will certainly overshoot any decarbonisation targets. Also, most of the gas doesn’t go into making power at all – but instead goes into the 44% or so of final energy consumption for heating homes and offices. So we’ll probably be living with gas, at least as heating fuel, for a very long time yet.

Biogas works just as well and comes from many sources, though mainly from anaerobic digestion of waste. And, when I say waste I mean all kinds: vegetable, animal and human. There are tonnes of such waste around; it doesn’t deplete, and, as a feedstock, it is broadly carbon neutral. Replacing domestic gas supply with biogas will mean fundamentally reorganising how we dispose of waste and crop residues, how we treat sewage, and what happens in farms up and down the country. But I think in the end, the shadow energy minister could be onto something of genuine use in the UK’s future low-carbon energy mix.


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