UNLOCKING WASTED POTENTIAL

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In September 2018, 3ADAPT attended the North East of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) International Bioresources Conference alongside senior industrialists, business leaders, scientists, academics and agriculturalists from across global markets. The conference shared some of the latest developments in the bioresources market including innovative solutions to some key issues facing the world today such as industrial symbiosis, decarbonisation, waste plastics recycling, hydrogen and waste to fuel for transport.

The bioresources market is quickly gaining traction and possesses vast future growth potential; in 2016 the UK waste and recycling sectors generated a turnover of £18.1 bn, with a gross value added (GVA) of £6.7 bn.[2] However, despite the UK producing 200 million tonnes per year, currently only 55% is either recycled for further use (44%), recovered (10%) or used for energy recovery (1%).[ii] The remaining portion of this market represents a significant opportunity to sustainably capture and fully realise resource value. In this blog we share the four key themes emerging from the conference and what they mean for the industry.

 
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1. Industrial Symbiosis: “One man’s waste…”

The potential of the ‘bioeconomy’ has been evaluated through quantitative analysis of the potential market opportunities. In particular, James Woodcock presented software that use algorithms to match waste products from one company with required feedstocks for other companies. This process has been termed ‘Industrial Symbiosis’ and facilitates recycling and re-use processes that are both cost and resource efficient. Performing artificial intelligence (AI) analysis on the success of the newly created supply chains has resulted in collective learning of process and matches that lead to successful operations and economic benefits.

Up to one third of produced food goes to waste. There are large opportunities in thinking about this as a resource

So far International Synergies Limited have recognised that three of the largest opportunities come from food waste (representing up to a third of food produced), wood from logging and timber industries, as well as animal manure and organic waste. This is mainly due to the large abundance of these resources, in addition to high value products and conversion opportunities to biofuels. However, challenges remain in the respective industries with regards to the requirement for complex collection infrastructure, as well as significantly increasing awareness and understanding of the high value of wastes and potential for resource recovery.

 
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2. Converting Waste to Treasure

“Up to 40% of plastic packaging ends up as waste, with a typical 6 month lifetime”

During the conference a wide array of technological and process advances across the bioresources market were presented. Australian company, Licella presented their use of catalytic hydrothermal reaction using supercritical water at high temperatures and pressures for end-of-life plastics upgrading. This chemically recycles plastic back to useful oils and gases, reducing cost of landfill diversion and production of biofuels.

“The use of catalytic hydrothermal reaction to recycle plastics back to useful oils and gases resulted in a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional refineries”

American company, Velocys presented their project to capitalise on domestic and commercial waste, represented by a current UK net export market opportunity of 3 million tonnes per year, by building the UK’s first commercial waste-to-fuels plant to produce aviation jet fuel. This could be critical to help meet short and medium term goals for low carbon liquid fuels, as well as significantly increasing air quality and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

 
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3. Reducing our Footprint: Carbon Dioxide Capture

“The most energy efficient viable CO2 capture process.”

Whilst there is a strong recognised need to capture and utilise carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions across various industries, current processes typically utilise traditional technologies such as the selective reaction of CO2 with amine solvents. These processes are typically associated with high cost and energy requirements, as well as inherent environmental impacts due to chemical corrosivity. Aiming to mitigate these drawbacks, Prof Chris Rayner from the company C-Capture, presented a carbon capture and storage technology that utilises an amine-free and readily available commodity chemical solvent. The process requires an energy consumption of just 1.5 GJ per tonne of recovered CO2, representing a 43% increase in energy efficiency compared to amine based processes. In addition, the lower chemical corrosivity allows use of cheaper materials of construction, resulting in lower process capital as well as operating costs. This technology has so far been successfully demonstrated at both pilot scale and small scale at a working farm in Yorkshire, capturing up to 1 tonne of CO2 per day.

The pilot use of this energy efficient technology has resulted in reductions to operating costs of up to 50%, as well as representing lower capital cost and safer processes.

 
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4. Future of the Bio-Economy: Delivering Strategic Growth

“The goal is to establish world leading bio economy”

The industrial utilisation of bioresources requires systems, partnerships and cross-sector collaborations that facilitate sustainable growth in a global bio-economy. Dr Sarah Hickingbottom from the organisation BioVale, a not for profit bio-innovation industry cluster based in Yorkshire and Humber, highlighted certain barriers to successfully establishing this goal, including awareness, skills, investment and management of assets and supply chains. To help address these issues, Dr Hickingbottom presented the role that organisations such as BioVale can perform, including facilitating research and development, establishing connections and raising company and industry profiles, as well as promoting expertise and sharing best practice.

Possessing a diverse membership of over 400 companies, higher education and investors, BioVale have successfully worked with international research collaborations across 19 countries to promote the exchange of knowledge and resources spanning many industries such as food waste, agricultural, chemical, energy and fuels. This has been achieved both locally across the region as well as becoming an internationally recognised partner to a range of European and global foundations, providing key access to funding and grants.

Summary

The issues facing the world today cannot be solved by technological breakthroughs alone. It requires organisations and individuals to ask probing questions about the life cycle and integration of their products and services, as well as the fundamental operations and drivers of day-to-day processes. At 3ADAPT, we see vast potential in supporting companies across a range of industries realise the value of their resources. This could be achieved from building level to masterplanning scales, for example through integration of processes and utilities, encouraging the paradigm shift from a linear to circular use of resources, as well as socio-techno-economic assessments of technologies and potential market opportunities. We believe that this approach can be replicated across all forms of capital - natural, social, human, manufactured and financial, to deliver sustainable development and an ongoing positive flow of benefits for our clients and society.

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Jamie Rendell

This blog was authored by Jamie Rendell who attended the conference. From a background in Chemical Engineering, Jamie is exploring how companies and industries can become more sustainable though the integrated use of energy, water and waste resources. He is particularly interested in how developing technologies and efficient system design, together with cross-industry collaborations and societal drivers, can translate into mutually beneficial economic, environmental and social outcomes.

[1] Office for National Statistics. Annual Business Survey - 2016 Revised Results, 2016.

[2] Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. UK Statistics on Waste, February 2018