From waste to energy, one step at a time...


As a result of the recent government comprehensive spending review, the public sector is about to experience the most drastic cuts seen in the last decade.With a new emphasis on getting more for less, Ian Collins of green energy company REG Bio-Power explains why it might be time for the public sector to re-examine some of its forgotten assets…

Of all the corporate buzz words that have come and gone over the last ten years, we can safely say that ‘being green’ is one that’s here to stay.Both the private and public sectors are still committed to the green agenda despite recent budget cuts but, for the latter, the targets are often more severe.

Take, for example, the recent changes to the Carbon Reduction Commitment, now the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC).All organisations with a least one half hourly electricity meter (HHM) qualify for the scheme and can face severe financial or legal penalties if they do not comply by developing comprehensive energy management strategies.

As of the October spending review, the CRC no longer redistributes its generated revenue among the scheme’s participants.Now that the financial incentive to get involved has been removed, the measures organisations take to comply will need to make fiscal sense, as well as environmental.This is where the energy from waste sector could hold the answer.

The technological advances made in this sector over the last ten years are staggering. Biomass power generation, for example, is now a much more versatile method of onsite energy production while advances in anaerobic digestion technology have seen the process used far more widely in the production of biogas for energy.

Leaving the CRC aside, there are two large drivers to developing the energy from waste industry in a sustainable way, lowering the UK’s landfill mountain and giving industry a sustainable use for waste and by-products.

In 2009, 46.5 million tonnes of waste was diverted to landfill in the UK, of which 18 million tonnes was derived from food.The message is loud and clear – we need to start looking at waste differently.

Traditionally viewed as a by-product of core output, the perception of what constitutes waste is in need of a drastic overhaul.Rather than divert to landfill, businesses and facilities managers should be looking at what is left over from processes and site management and how else it could be used.

For example, at REG Bio-Power, we are in the business of waste vegetable oil (WVO).We collect the oil from local authority recycling sites, industrial producers and bulk aggregators throughout the UK and process this waste product, which has historically gone to landfill or down the drains, into an End of Waste (EoW) biofuel.No chemicals, additives or reagents are used in the process which makes LF100 a clean, green, environmentally-friendly fuel.

The LF100 is then used to create combined heat and power (CHP) at various sites throughout the country, including a renewable energy plant in Suffolk and a CHP generator at the Port of Dover.To date, the engines have clocked up over 40,000 operating hours using LF100.

Globally, there is an estimated 128 million tonnes of WVO which is currently going to waste.If processed into LF100, this WVO could have provided enough power for every home in the United States in 2007 for a whole year.

In the UK, almost 300 local authority waste and recycling centres now accept WVO and we’ve collected almost one million litres of WVO over the past four years. This is on top of the dedicated household recycling collections, for plastics, glass and paper, already in place with most councils.In 2008, household recycling saved the same amount of CO2 as a million return flights from London to Sydney.

Apart from proving the potential of energy from waste, this shows that the UK has an appetite for innovative methods of producing energy, an encouraging sign. And it’s easy to see why.Under the European Landfill Directive, diverting waste from landfill is a keystone of environmental compliance and, as many organisations now account for corporate social responsibility on their balance sheet, managing waste in a more sustainable way has an added financial incentive.

However, the shift in public perception of waste hasn’t yet reached its full potential when it comes to the commercial world.Large public and private sector organisations are responsible for around 10% of the UK’s total emissions when it comes to energy use, yet their forgotten assets in the form of waste could be used to produce energy with a myriad of benefits while helping to meet targets at the same time.Large scale users of vegetable oil, for example, can re-use their waste output in an onsite generator to create combined heat and power with, in some cases, fixed energy rates for five years.

Creating energy from waste on site in this way is particularly advantageous for organisations that can’t afford the initial capital outlay for the genset, many companies providing energy from waste solutions, including REG Bio-Power, can provide organisations with the tools to create their own power on site without them having to purchase the equipment.

The low initial cost outlay sits alongside the benefits of helping to meet public sector targets, the government’s Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate, or “SOGE”, requirements mean that public departments have to achieve reductions of 12.5% in carbon emissions by 2011, relative to 2005/06 levels.

Converting waste into energy not only helps towards meeting this target, but also aids departments in achieving the 40% required increase in recycling from waste.If your genset produces combined heat and power, then you can add sourcing at least 15% of electricity from CHP to the list.

At a national level, it’s clear that something needs to be done to combat both our waste and energy problems, creating one from the other seems to be a natural remedy.It’s time to revolutionise the way we think about waste, and the UK energy from waste industry is perfectly positioned to spearhead the movement.

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