Energy engineering: fuel for thought


This article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2010 edition of Energy Engineering magazine.

In July 2009, secretary of state for energy and climate change Ed Miliband suggested that we will need to produce enough energy from renewable sources by 2020 to supply the equivalent of nearly all 26 million homes in the UK with their current electricity needs and four million homes with their current heating needs.

And, claims the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan July 2009, we must do so largely without emitting greenhouse gases.

While carbon trading and deforestation may have been high on the agenda at the climate change talks in Copenhagen in December (2009), Ian Collins, managing director at Living Fuels, explains how something as simple as used cooking oil could actually provide the answer.

Living Fuels, a subsidiary of AIM listed REG Limited, has perfected a method of refining used cooking oil into a biofuel – LF100 – which can be used to generate clean electricity.

Living Fuels’ plans to produce combined heat and power (CHP), from LF100 on a large scale, fall directly within the remit of the UK Renewable Energy Strategy (July 2009).

“Just one litre of used cooking oil,” says Collins, “when refined into LF100, can fuel a generator to generate 4.5 kWh of electricity.That’s enough to make 240 cups of tea, run an A-rated dishwasher for three hours or power an energy saving light bulb for 225 hours.”

He continues: “annually, there is an estimated ¼ million tonnes of UCO being produced in the UK.That’s enough to power ¼ million average homes for a whole year.UCO will not solve the energy crisis on its own, but, it will certainly make a big impact.”

Living Fuels is working with over 40 local authorities and London Borough Councils on an innovative scheme which places UCO collection tanks into household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs).There are more than 200tanks in place at sites around the country where householders can recycle their domestic UCO.

On the commercial side, more than 500 schools and 16 prisons are signed up to the scheme to recycle their UCO to generate clean electricity.Living Fuels is also working with a number of businesses in the catering, food processing and hospitality sectors.

However, says Collins: "the gulf between UK strategy and regulation means that there is currently a greater legislative and financial burden on our carbon-neutral fuel than less environmentally-friendly, fossil fuel counterparts such as diesel.

“This is because, despite being classified an end of waste (EoW) product by the Environment Agency – which means the fuel ceases to be a waste product once it completes our recovery and testing process – LF100 is still subject to the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2007 (EPR).”

The EPR states that all waste and combustion activities above certain thresholds must either be granted an exemption under the regulations or hold a permit before operations begin.Living Fuels, like other companies in the renewable energy sector, is affected by the wording in Section 1.1 which states that “fuels manufactured from or including waste” require a permit as the oil from which LF100 is created was once classified a waste product.

The EPR legislation does not take into account the legal and technical status of EoW fuel products.

“We’ve got the support for this – as evidenced by the number of individuals, local authorities and private companies which now recycle their used cooking oil,” says Collins, "and also the interest we’ve had from diverse sectors for the installation of localised CHP units running on LF100.

“Like many companies in the renewable energy sector, we’re now challenging the discrepancies between waste reduction and renewable energy strategies and current UK legislation.

“This incompatibility between strategy and legislation is hampering the development of large scale innovative solutions to bring renewable energy technologies to market.”

We need to start thinking about the infrastructure now says Collins."The existing power network was not designed to cope with the way we now consume electricity or the diverse sources from which it can be obtained.

“If we are to truly make a success of the wide variety of renewable energy technologies which are being funded by the private sector then we need to make sure that the infrastructure and legislation is in place to handle it.

“And that means,” says Collins, "that the government will need to amend the regulations so that it’s commercially viable for companies to recycle the vast quantities of UCO – currently clogging our sewers and filling our landfill sites – into renewable energy.

“If the legislation does not catch up with strategy and technology then we will miss a real opportunity to build the renewable energy capacity of the UK while supporting the drive to become a zero waste nation.

“Otherwise, the UK will remain at a major disadvantage in comparison with Europe where such restrictions do not apply.”