Anaerobic digestion is a collection of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The process is used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste and/or to produce fuels. Much of the fermentation used industrially to produce food and drink products, as well as home fermentation, uses anaerobic digestion.
Anaerobic digestion is widely used as a source of renewable energy. The process produces a biogas, consisting of methane, carbon dioxideand traces of other ‘contaminant’ gases. This biogas can be used directly as fuel, in combined heat and power gas engines or upgraded to natural gas-quality biomethane. The nutrient-rich digestate also produced can be used as fertiliser.
The Environmental Benefit
Methane and power produced in anaerobic digestion facilities can be used to replace energy derived from fossil fuels, and hence reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, because the carbon in biodegradable material is part of a carbon cycle. The carbon released into the atmosphere from the combustion of biogas has been removed by plants for them to grow in the recent past, usually within the last decade, but more typically within the last growing season. If the plants are regrown, taking the carbon out of the atmosphere once more, the system will be carbon neutral. In contrast, carbon in fossil fuels has been sequestered in the earth for many millions of years, the combustion of which increases the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.