On average we throw away 2.7kgs of food per person, per week. Now, a leading environmental solutions company has developed a technology to convert this waste stream into green renewable energy.

Waste Today, Green Energy Tomorrow

Ed Mant | Inetec

Waste Today
On average we throw away 2.7kgs of food per person, per week. Now, a leading environmental solutions company has developed a technology to convert this waste stream into green renewable energy.
Waste Today, Green Energy Tomorrow
Ed Mant, Inetec

As we move forward into the 21st Century there is increasing concerns over the future of our energy supply. Increasing populations and demand for electricity mean that by the year 2020 it is estimated the world will be using 22trillion KWh of electricity. This figure is 10trillion KWh more than was being used in 1996. Coupled with the growing concerns over global warming this poses a real problem for energy companies the world over due to restrictions on fossil fuel usage and emissions.

So what is the future of electricity creation?

When looking at the electricity consumption for the UK, the figure in 2002 stood at 333 GWh. This has been split over seven main sources; Gas, coal, nuclear, renewable, hydroelectric, imports and oil. Of these sources gas was currently the largest source of electricity creation with a figure of 39.3%, closely followed by coal at 33.0%. Nuclear provides around 19% with the other sources making up a mere 7.73% of the UK's electricity requirements. But as we move towards an age where dwindling fossil fuel supplies and EU restrictions rule the method of electricity creation we must now look to these alternative sources in a bid to meet the ever increasing energy demands.

Of course there are various options for renewable energy creation within the UK, but which are the most viable? The obvious options, such as solar, hydro and wind have the potential to provide a good percentage of the power requirements but these are dependant on something we cannot control; the environment. For example, using solar power in Australia as a major source of energy creation would be a perfectly viable solution due to the extended sun exposure received in the southern hemisphere. Anywhere south of mid level France is likely to receive enough sun and at the correct intensity to be able to produce large quantities of solar energy. Although there is the potential to produce solar energy within the UK, due to the very nature of our climate it is unlikely that it would yield significant electricity to really make an impact on the increased demand for power. Although solar panels have advanced greatly over the past decade large quantities of the solar energy which hits these panels is reflected back, with only around 15% being absorbed to create electricity. This is not to say solar power should be shelved within the UK, far from it, but it is an unrealistic thought to believe it will be a main source of power over the coming millennium.

Then there is wind power. This is a more viable solution for the UK due to the strong Atlantic winds the west coast of the country encounters. The UK government believe that wind power has the capability to produce around 5% of the UK's electricity requirement by 2010 and there are several projects under development in order to achieve this figure. Off shore wind farms are planned for various locations around the UK's coastline but these are likely to come under some scrutiny from local residents and environmental groups. However, 5% still leaves 95% to find from other sources.

Hydro energy is also a viable option and has been utilised for many years throughout the UK and Europe. The most common form of hydroelectric generation uses dams to store water which is then released through turbines in controlled quantities. The advantage of this method of energy creation is that vast quantities of water can be stored by damming valleys in the hills, thus providing a source of energy which is available on demand and can be controlled, unlike wind or solar. Hydro power also has the capability to reach full generating capacity quickly, by simply allowed more water to pass through the turbines, should there be a sudden requirement for increased energy supply. The downside is the time that is required to construct such dams. Other constraints include finding suitable locations for placing dams and the environmental effects which would be encountered by blocking an existing river channel. Areas downstream of the dam are likely to suffer while the water is being stored and there is also the risk factor of the dam failing to consider. If a dam were to fail the stored water would be sure to wash away anything in the valley beyond it, which could be anything from crops and livestock to entire towns. Although with today's modern technologies and engineering expertise this is an unlikely eventuality it is always a possibility.

So what other alternatives are there available to us?

This is where modern innovation and novel technology comes in. Over the past 3 decades scientists the world over have been developing a number of biofuels which can be used to create electricity. These typically include crops which are grown to be used as a replacement for fossil fuels, or in more recent times, the development of power plants run from gases which are produced by landfill sites. In England and Wales alone over 100 million tonnes of waste was produced in 2004. At present the majority of this is still going to landfill but recent government legislations (Landfill Directive) mean that we must now find an alternative means of disposing of this waste. Landfill is no longer an acceptable option due to emissions, space and environmental impacts.

This leads to the newest method of energy creation which has the potential to make huge in-roads into the UK's energy requirements. Biomass fuels. These are typically non-liquid forms of biofuel, including wood. But wood still produces significant levels of carbon when burnt, so are there any other forms of biomass fuel which can be added into the equation? The answer is yes, and it is a surprising source which can potentially redefine the way the UK utilises a valuable resource which was previously being squandered. Food and non-recyclable packaging waste!

It has been estimated that of around 11% of the food produced in the UK is thrown away. This means, on average we throw away 2.7kgs of food per person, per week. This equates to value of between £8 and £16 billion pounds a year. Food waste accounts for around 17 million tonnes of the UK's total waste stream with the majority of this currently going to landfill. The cost of this is somewhere in excess of one hundred million pounds per annum, but this waste is a valuable resource. Even with the recent additions of energy creation plants on landfill sites, it is not being utilised to its full potential. Of this food waste around seven million tonnes is produced by the large scale food manufacturers within the UK. This waste stream could be made up of animal by products, contaminated packaging, out of date ingredients or simply manufacturing by products. These are some staggering figures when you consider that this waste is a valuable source of energy.

Until now there has not been a process which had the ability to convert such a waste stream into electricity which was reliable and cost effective, while producing sufficient quantities of power to make it economically viable. Now, a leading environmental solutions company has developed a technology to convert this waste stream into green renewable energy. The technology innovator behind the process, Inetec, have developed a unique process which can handle this varying waste stream in all its forms, and process it into renewable energy.

The patented process uses a technique called abrasive drying to break the waste down to a cellular level in order to remove the moisture content. It is a mechanical process which uses abrasion and heat to evaporate the moisture away leaving a dry powder, or biomass fuel. With a calorific value of around 6-8KWh per kilogram this fuel has an energy value around 40% higher than wood biomass. This can then be used to generate a variety of energy forms, including steam, hot water and on a larger scale, electricity. Which of these is most cost effective will depends on the quantity of waste being processed. The great benefit of this process is that mixed waste streams can be passed through it with the same end result. This includes packaging waste, meaning there is no separation required, something no other food waste method can currently do.

It is the off-site facilities which could change the shape of renewable energy supply in the UK. Inetec are the driving force behind a new initiative called the EnCycle project. This national initiative plans to develop 10 plants in various locations around the UK to process food and packaging waste on a huge scale. The first of these plants is in its final stages of development and when complete will process up to 500 tonnes of food and non-recyclable packaged waste per day. The three stage process first abrasively drys the waste to produce the biomass fuel. This is then passed through a gas conversion process and the resulting gas is used to drive a series of gas engines. The result is an energy centre producing around 24MW of electricity, which is enough to power around 37,000 average UK households.

So what does this mean in the future?

As western cultures' reliance on ready meals increased the waste produced by the large scale food manufacturers looks set to continue growing. With this in mind the Inetec solution to this problem is currently the only method available on the market today for processing this mixed waste stream in order to recover the energy content contained within it. By adopting this method of processing a previously un-tapped waste stream these large scale food manufacturers now have a means of cutting waste to landfill by a significant amount, while helping contribute to the renewable energy targets of the UK. As more of these energy centres come online the effect on the environment should become significant. Reduction in waste to landfill and energy recovery will all work towards a greener future for the UK, and when the EnCycle project looks to broaden into international markets it could change the way that large scale food producers over the world look at their waste streams issues.

Press Enquiries
Ed Mant
Marketing and Communications Manager
01656 746439
07793 189158

Some facts about Inetec:

  • Inetec were formed in 1997
  • Inetec provide on-site waste management solutions and energy recovery systems which can fully replace a factory's existing boiler requirements
  • The EnCycle project involves three companies - Inetec, GEM, NEL Power
  • The first plant in NE England is due to be operational late 2007 at a cost of £70M
  • Further plants are intended for NW, Central SW and SE England and South Wales.
  • Inetec are currently being watched by the Fast Growth 50
  • Completion of the plant will boost company value from £1M to £70M overnight

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