Tekiu spent two days at the NEC Birmingham this September at an event which brings together the European Environmental Industry in four shows with four timely themes: Flood Expo, Contamination Expo, Recycling and Waste Management Expo, and the Future Resources Expo.
Combing through the venue’s aisles, we met Public Power Solutions (PPS), a unique local authority business wholly owned by Swindon Borough Council. Focusing exclusively on waste and power, they build a bridge between industry and local authorities, which means simplified the tendering process, reducing cost by removing costly middle steps, reducing risk by investing directly and long-term into technologies and projects, and ultimately creating value for money for taxpayers by creating new revenue streams and adopting more efficient technologies. An example of this is their Barnfield Solar Park.
Government policy EV charging is weak but also, in general, working with government is difficult for small firms because the tendering process is complex.
Down the corridor from PPS we met Future Mobility Consulting, a 9-month old consulting startup specialising in electric vehicle and mobility infrastructure. They note that the main challenge they perceive is that government policy EV charging is weak but also, in general, working with government is difficult for small firms because the tendering process is complex. We suggested to PPS that they chat to the SMEs in their vicinity as there is potential for mutual gain.
We also met with National Grid. One mostly associates Nation Grid with electricity or gas transmission or rare blackouts. From decades of experience running and supporting its own operations National Grid has accumulated tremendous knowledge. They were at the expo to make this expertise more visible: National Grid offers consulting services on areas including flooding risk assessment, noise pollution, and EMF exposure. See for example their National Grid Flood Resilience Programme.
Speaking to the team at NIBE heat pumps, we learned that one of the main challenges that the sector faces is status of The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a UK Government scheme set up to encourage uptake of renewable heat technologies through financial incentives. Launched in April 2014 it provides financial support owners of renewable heating system for 7 years. The RHI is confirmed until March 2021, but the problem is that the incentive ends with immediate effect on 31 March 2021. The Government has not yet announced how it intends to encourage the use of low carbon heating technologies after 31 March 2021. This sudden cut severely affects companies like NIBE, who suggest that a tapered approach to ease off the incentive would enable planning working together with consumers. According to ICAX, “it appears that the Government plans to move away from subsidy towards issuing instructions or prohibitions.”
Walking to the Recycling and Waste Management part of the Expo we met with two large competitors with very different approaches: CNIM, the French equipment manufacturer and BMH Technology from Finland. One of CNIM’s challenges is Brexit: many of their skilled and semi-skilled workers are European citizens – and they are leaving the UK and with that, lots of jobs vacant. I asked them if they experience any challenges with the changing nature of waste in the last decade. They responded “no”. This is because in their approach to Waste-to-Energy, everything goes: refuse-collection lorries tip the entirety of their contents into the plant’s storage pits, then cranes feed it hoppers, which is then passed down a chute into a gigantic grate and subsequently into a combustion chamber, where the heat from the incineration is converted into ‘superheated steam’ in a boiler. This is fed to a ‘turbo-generator’, which turns its energy into electricity that is exported to the grid. The key with this model is that their grate “deals with all types of municipal waste without the need for pre-sorting” or pre-treatment: that is, everything goes!
The future of the waste-to-energy sector will be determined by the UK’s legislation on recycling, which is currently weak. The UK-wide policies on waste are built on an EU concept known as the waste hierarchy. The waste hierarchy requires anyone managing waste to consider first prevention, preparing for reuse and recycling followed by other methods of recovery, for example energy recovery and, lastly, disposal.
One meter away is BMH Technology, whose approach provides waste refining solutions. Unlike CNIM’s standard plants, BMH plants are tailor-made with an adaptive feeding system with ‘intelligent shedders’ that can detect and separate items that can be recycled, moving them to special recycling sections of the plant. For example, metals are recovered using magnets. It also optimises the combustion process by e.g. shedding to optimal size, removing organic waste, refining to biofuel, adjusting the drying process, etc. Currently, CNIM seems to be the dominant solution in the UK because legislation that supports the separation of recyclables is weak. Another issue is that unlike Scandinavia, a lot of UK infrastructure remains Victorian and upgrading to enable households to be heated with energy from waste, as they have done, requires major investment. On our way out I met with a scrap yard owner. He told me that his main challenge was finding solutions for small-scale operators like himself – all the solutions featured at the expo were large-scale: another gap… or opportunity!