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Feature: Capture that carbon!

Recycling wastes to land can and will be a major driver in the reduction of greenhouse gas production. When working for the Department of Trade and Industry some years ago, I had a discussion with Professor Lynne Frostick, from the University of Hull, about wastes which could go to land for farming, forestry and horticulture.We thought around 100 million tonnes per year.

At that figure, the dry matter content would be more than 50%, and the nature of the molecules would give an elemental proportion of over 50% of that to carbon. So the carbon content of that waste would be likely to be in excess of 30 million tonnes a year.

Biofuels from crops which are grown using mineral fertilisers (where the nitrogen fertiliser is made using electricity) really do not stack up in Europe when looking at environmental energy equations. But if the crops are grown from fertilisers made from wastes which need to be recycled, then the equations become dramatically attractive — provided, that is, the operation works inside a proximity principle framework.

So what is the scope for carbon capture and storage in soils (CCSS)? There is around 0.5 million hectares (ha) of set aside land in the UK and there is a lot of cropping land which is not terribly economic, perhaps two million ha. At that figure, crops grown from composted wastes could lock up 20 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to taking possibly 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air. Add that to the figure of 70 million tonnes a year from waste to land, and there is a CCSS potential of 130 million tonnes or about a sixth of the total carbon dioxide emissions a year for the UK.

Consider bio-diesel and bio-heating oil production from crops from waste, with product used locally on farms, schools and offices. We are looking at bio-diesel production on a large scale, with the production unit on farms, wastes used to grow the crops and the fuel tanker arriving to collect the fuel going straight to the retail pump. This cuts significant logistics energy and costs.

But we need understanding based on technical knowledge from the Government and the regulators. There needs to be recognition of when and where the skills and responsibility exist between farming, the waste industries and the wider bio-fuel industry, and the Government has to use those skills to deliver in sensible time frames.

Standards have to be developed for use in the definition of recovery of wastes used to produce composts and fertilisers for a range of uses, such as food crops, horticultural crops, forestry and the production of bio-fuels. Financial incentives need to be tailored to the UK industry, which will be enough, and only enough, to put UK production on a parallel with competition from overseas. Do these things and the industry will deliver.

A toolkit designed to help companies make money out of waste was one of the five pioneering projects to have won in this year’s national e-Well-Being Awards.

Now in their fourth year, the awards aim to showcase how information and communications technologies can contribute to environmental and social objectives. The awards have five categories: Digital Inclusion, Age and Disability, Improving Public Services, Better Ways of Working and Climate Change and Environmental Efficiency.

An online resource efficiency toolkit by Manchester-based Enworks won the latter category. This bespoke piece of web-based software helps to encour

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