David Pickering is the Project Manager on a ground-breaking scheme to take household rubbish and turn it into gas that can be piped straight into your home. Connecting speaks to him about the implications of BioSNG.
By the end of the summer, a small plant will be built in Swindon which will have the capacity to take the kind of rubbish you might find in your waste bin and turn it into low carbon natural gas.
It’s just one of the innovative renewable energy projects National Grid is involved with, working alongside a number of technical partners, to meet ambitious targets for an 80 per cent reduction on 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2050.
So what’s behind this project, which goes by the name of BioSNG (Substitute Natural Gas)? Of course, there are plenty of innovative projects out there to produce renewable energy, from offshore windfarms to ground source heat pumps, and these all have a part to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the real plus point of renewable gas is that it uses the existing gas pipelines to bring energy for heating to our homes, with no need to spend more on new pipes, wires or home appliances.
A natural development
At National Grid, we believe that making low carbon gas is a really good way of reducing the carbon impact of heat. This initially led us to promote the production of renewable biomethane from food and sewage waste by anaerobic digestion. From small beginnings back in 2009, many biomethane plants are now delivering renewable gas into the gas network. However, there will never be enough of this kind of waste to be able to meet more than a small proportion of our gas heating needs.
But your bins may offer a solution to this problem. In a highly populated country like the UK, rubbish is the biggest potential source of low carbon fuel. Mixed waste could produce enough renewable gas to meet up to 40% of the gas we use in our homes.
So we began to look at the potential of ‘gasification’. Put simply, this means heating up organic matter, such as the stuff you throw away, and breaking it down to create a useable fuel from the gas produced. It’s a simple idea and a proven chemical process.
We think that if we scaled up the plant that is under construction at the moment, we could make a real impact. For example, a BioSNG plant using all the waste from the city of Coventry could make enough green gas to heat a quarter the homes there.
So what’s the next step? Once the pilot plant in Swindon is fully commissioned by our specialist partners, Advanced Power Plasma, Progressive Energy and Carbotech, later in 2015, we can start testing and optimising the process.
We expect to be producing BioSNG by early 2016, when the facility will be used as a showcase to demonstrate the technology to energy suppliers and the Government. We’re now just a year into the project, and we are very pleased with how things have gone so far. This is potentially a very significant initiative with serious future potential.