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How does the Industrial Emissions Directive affect the wastewater and sewage industry?

Shifting goalposts, delayed guidance, and new concepts in BAT (Best Available Techniques) – How Wastewater companies are handling the legislative turbulence.

Originally, when the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) came into force it didn’t explicitly include Anaerobic Digestion treatment at Water and Sewage companies (WaSCs). It was considered by many in industry and government that compliance with the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWwTD) was sufficient, which of course was aimed specifically at them.

However, in 2019 the Environment Agency (EA) ‘confirmed’ that wastewater anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities did actually come under the IED legal, in addition to the UWwTD permitting regime. This surprise decision came after cost analysis for PR24 (Ofwat regulated price review), leading water companies having to submit an enhanced business case for additional funding.

By the time that this policy change was made, many more UWwTD-permitted sewage companies had increased their use of anaerobic digestion to recover useable material from waste sludge, cutting the reliance on landfill disposal and producing green energy as a result.

For all their initiative in improving sludge treatment and ecological outcomes by implementing AD, the water industry was only given a mere two years to make required adaptions and apply for the additional IED derived permit.

For many installations, the biggest IED challenge is demonstrating the use of the concepts of BAT (Best Available Techniques) and the more rigid ‘Appropriate Measures’ required under the IED permitting (EPR). With these BATS having been updated for the entire waste industry just the year before, with new revisions due soon, the wastewater industry was really thrown in at the deep end!

For example, United Utilities claimed that the revised 2022 BATs cost them an extra £173 million Totex over the remaining 8th asset-management period (AMP8). This is on top of the £66 million spent on implementing new BATs in AMP7. Thames Water’s AMP8 forecast (25 sites) comes in similarly at £165m Opex and £15.4m Capex (Totex £180.4m), Southern Water £138.4m (16 sites), whilst Yorkshire Water got it down to £118.2m by reducing the volume capacity of final digestate storage.

For their part, the EA did allow existing AD wastewater treatment works a permit before all the normal conditions were meet, based on them working to a timebound compliance plan. The clock runs out for this dispensation on 31st December 2024, leaving much work to be fitted in before then. With a shortage of available contractors and staff, plus the time required for procurement, the deliverability is seriously in question.

Often, this work is largely extra ‘paperwork’ as there are both cross-overs and reporting inconsistencies between the IED and the UWwTD. As the European Parliamentary Research Service put it in a briefing to MEPs dated 2022:

“It is not clear what types of activities are covered under 'industrial waste water' in the provisions of the UWWTD. There is also an overlap in sectors covered under the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and the UWWTD”

The implication of having to comply with overlapping two directives means undertaking new risk assessments, more frequent monitoring checks and revised maintenance routines to demonstrate application of all BATs.

In April 2024, the EU Council revised the IED to align it with the European Green Deal. The aims are: more stringent environmental and human health protection, better energy efficiency, a circular economy and greater decarbonisation. Whilst not legally tied to the European Green Deal and EU directives made since 2020, the UK is likely to react to these updates with revised legislation of it’s own.

It is yet to be known how cautious and stringent the EA will be in it’s approach to IED permitting. In a letter from Ofwat to the industry in August 2023, Director Tim Griffiths acknowledged “…there is uncertainty in both scope and cost prior to agreeing permits for the implementation of IED…”

What we’ve learned from various UK Water companies is that IED permitting of AD treatment means additional Capex and Opex work such as:
  • Performing extra liquor sampling and analysis in order to implement new management control processes and systems. This is likely to need more sampling points and additional monitoring equipment installing.
  • Provide appropriate waste acceptance sampling, analysis and management systems to satisfy the waste acceptance criteria of the IED permit.
  • Prevention of pollution to land and water by providing containment solutions that are 110% of the largest volumetric tank or 25% of the total stored volume, whichever is larger.
  • Provide covering of any open-top tanks and lagoons which emit fugitive gasses to the air with associated treatment (Odour Control Units (OCUs). Consider if beneficial gas capture is possible on these.
  • Provide final product storage emissions control. This could require new storage barns to cover biosolids and ‘cake’ whilst it awaits distribution to agricultural customers.
  • Assess site geology to understand risks from incidents, conduct major spill modelling.
  • Asses the condition and structural integrity of assets, particularly storage tanks, digestors, pumps and pipework.
  • Deliver the latest BAT interventions stipulated in the IED regulations, identify emerging technologies that could help reduce costs and/or improve environmental outcomes, and take Appropriate Measures as required by the EA.
  • Enhancing the Environment Management System (EMS), Accident Management Plan and other procedures.
  • More frequent emptying and cleaning of digestate tanks in order to maintain volume throughput, and safety.
  • Researching and implementing measures to control costs. Eg Increasing speed of digestion and reducing downtime reduces the amount of storage required for raw and finished product.
Atlantic Pumps help WaSC AD installations across the UK and Eire reduce the cost and downtime of digestor clearance, using our innovative “emergent technology” for tank and lagoon emptying. This has proven its value to sites moving away from expensive, time-consuming vac-suction pump trucks.

By making it quicker, cheaper and easier to clean digestate and wastewater storage assets, this can be done more regularly so that their capacity is maintained. Bottoming out tanks means less cost in capturing emissions, with full-depth, clean storage areas requiring less footprint to cover.

To explore ways to overcome your cost and operational challenges in wastewater handling, call our Water industry specialist team on 0800 118 2500