As we swelter in the sunshine, even more heat is being generated by Brexit infighting in Westminster and intransigence in Brussels. The resultant industrial policy vacuum means we have little idea of how the preoccupied Government plans to motivate UK businesses to embrace the low carbon economy and match EU sustainability standards.
With our new German partner EnviroChemie, Clearfleau is seeking access to the European industrial bio-energy sector. We also need a buoyant market in the UK for resource-efficient bio-energy and water management solutions. Industrial bio-tech (including bio-energy) is a strategic market for the EU which the UK should be fully part of.
Sustainable manufacturing, with a more circular approach to using resources, is being driven by the major multinationals who are setting their own goals and targets while ignoring the views of certain politicians.
Bio-energy is part of a holistic solution to industrial carbon reduction and climate change mitigation. Reducing long-term industrial carbon emissions depends on finding solutions for the many smaller manufacturing businesses that are drivers of future economic growth. Uncertainty about Britain’s future trade relations with the EU is matched by indecision on cutting industrial emissions on SME sites.
Industrial process residues from smaller dairy, meat, vegetable and fruit processing sites can be converted into energy. More companies are interested in generating value and energy from liquid and solid process residues. They expect an attractive payback. Under five years is the norm for most industrial clients, and we are working on projects where this is possible without government incentives.
Aside from escalating costs of energy and pressure to reduce carbon emissions, other factors are also stimulating food companies to invest in resource efficiency. On some sites this includes re-using grey water. The step from discharging to a watercourse (typical on our plants) to re-use is a short one. Current concerns about risks to UK water supplies mean this is more relevant than ever.
Another benefit from effective on-site industrial biogas plants is that residual nutrients can be used to fertilise crops that are processed in the factory, or fed to livestock that supply us with meat and milk – which have a high water and carbon footprint.
Water is not the only commodity facing a restricted supply. A carbon dioxide shortage is affecting our supplies of meat, carbonated drinks and beer, and even crumpets. But anaerobic digestion can also help to provide a solution to this resource issue.
One of the co-products of AD is carbon dioxide, comprising over 30% of the gas content of methane. At present C02 is being extracted from biogas on AD plants – including one of our dairy sites. With more investment, it could replace other supplies (a by-product of artificial fertiliser production) to meet some of UK demand.
The biogas industry must not only reduce atmospheric release of C02 but also convert industrial carbon emissions into useful industrial grade C02. Requiring AD plants to be carbon positive would help make better use of all the content of biogas rather than just the methane.
Impact on energy supplies alone will not justify the future of AD in the bio-economy. We must show that all the outputs, not only heat and electricity, have a use. Not just clean water but C02 (and other trace gases) plus residual nutrients (particularly phosphorous that will soon be in short supply).
It is time to stop harvesting crops that require high fertiliser inputs to supply carbon-emitting AD plants. The bio-economy can supply other scarce resources and the AD industry must be part of efforts to reduce emissions and make better use of all our natural resources. Advanced bio-energy solutions can offer much more than a decentralised source of clean energy.