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UK scores a hat-trick in the innovations game


Heru got its name as a play on the word ‘hero’ and is an abbreviation of Home Energy Resource Unit because it was originally con­ceived as a solution for the home. But interest from the likes of hospitals, adult care homes, restaurants and hotels means it is more likely to enter the commercial market first.

The patented units can take anything from nappies, paper, food, garden cuttings and plas­tics and use the energy from them to heat the user’s hot water using pyrolysis. The material put into the unit becomes char, releasing oil and gas, which is captured. Heru cleans the oil so it is safe to discharge, and it utilises the gas and heat that has been produced, together with a domestic boiler.

A single cycle of a Heru unit can produce a 30°C temperature rise for 70-120 litres of water a day, equivalent to a full bath. The units are loaded from the top, can stand inside or out­side, and simply need to be connected to the gas, water and sewage. The advice is to switch it on at the end of the day so that it processes feedstock overnight and is ready next day.

MRW first featured Heru in 2017 when it was at an early testing stage. Full trials of the 19-litre machine, which has the footprint of a standard washing machine but is a bit taller, are currently taking place and continue until early next year.

They have been co-funded by Worcestershire County Council’s low-carbon opportunities programme, which is in turn funded by the European Regional Development Fund. It involves Heru being tested at three sites: Hillers Farm Shop, testing commercial food and pack­aging input; Rugby Borough Council in shel­tered housing, testing domestic input; and Wychavon District Council, testing office materials. Data and feedback from the trials will allow the final steps to be taken to bring the units to market.

Nik Spencer, founder and inventor of Heru, says the trials are going well: “We have had some amazing engineers working on it, to be fair: we have a guy from Formula 1 Mercedes- Benz doing the mechanical engineering and there is another guy from Rolls-Royce aero­space doing the software design, so we have had some phenomenal brains working on the pro­ject. Now we have got someone who has been with Bosch for the past 13 years – he has resigned his position in Germany and is setting up a facility in the UK to start manufacturing the Heru.”

As well as the UK, other countries have also shown interest in licensing the technology, which will allow it to be used within different brands and designs to suit local markets.

A 240-litre machine is being developed in response to commercial demand for a unit that could process more material and therefore pro­duce more hot water, with the idea that this would have the same footprint as an 1,100-litre wheelie bin. Tests are also being run on a 6m-tall machine for sewage sludge.

Spencer spent 28 years in the waste industry, and was struck by the fact that it was centred on collecting and moving materials around – including food and organics with high water content – and consuming significant amounts of fossil fuels in transport and processing.

He devised Heru as a means of treating these materials at source: “For me, the whole thing, right from the beginning, was that I wanted to stop moving this stuff around, but I wanted something that was as easy to use as your con­ventional wheelie bin.”

Having been in the industry a long time, Spencer knew that people would try to put any­thing that would fit into the unit.

“We want to make a machine that you have to load, like a dishwasher, so people take a bit more care and thought about what they are processing,” he says. “And to put value on it [the waste] because, at the moment, the wrapper you take off your cheese doesn’t have any value to the person who is taking it off.”

His vision is to change the whole mindset around waste – or resources as he sees them – so that if your kids went to McDonalds, you would ask them to bring the packaging back home to put in the Heru and help you save money on your energy bill.

He believes Heru sits at the top of the waste hierarchy “because waste does not arise when you’ve got one…Under the definition of the regulations, waste becomes waste at the point you discard it, with no further use.

“So we went to an environmental barris­ter in London to get their view on it. They said that, in their opinion, when you put material into a Heru you are dealing with uneaten food, not waste food; you are using it to generate energy and reduce your energy bill, so it never becomes waste.”

Lifecycle analysis on the units conducted by consultants at Ricardo found that the climate change effects of Heru are 300% lower than for commingled collections and 280% lower than for kerbside sort. Spencer foresees that Heru units may coexist with bring systems for metals and glass, perhaps located at supermarkets or collected via reverse logistics with home deliveries.

He also believes Heru users would put pres­sure on those who package goods to use more renewable materials, so that users could benefit from greater renewable heat incentive (RHI) payments. As part of the trials, Heru is assess­ing qualification criteria for RHI for cardboard, paper, food and garden trimmings.

For brands and businesses, meanwhile, hav­ing a unit that processes materials at source removes the risk of them ending up where they should not, and ensures compliance with duty of care regulations.

Spencer reveals that he has had “a good few visits” from waste management companies, who are interested in it as a solution for clients: “They are not burying their heads in the sand and have almost recognised there has to be a change. But waste management firms are logis­tics businesses predominantly, so the idea of not moving stuff is very alien [to them].”

Widespread uptake of Heru units could wipe out waste collections as we know them.

Recycle Bound by Oltco

At the start of the year, UK independent resin flooring specialist Oltco launched Recycle Bound, a resin bound driveway solution made using recycled plastic. The product currently uses waste plastic sourced from a large plastics recycler, originating from plastic drink bottles, food packaging and straws.

Founded in 2004, Oltco services domestic and commercial clients across the country, including Wembley Stadium, the NHS, British Airways and John Lewis. Based in Newquay, Cornwall, directors Tom Stringer and Johnny Pearce describe Recycle Bound as a “passion project” that grew from seeing the impact of waste plastic on beaches and wildlife.

Pearce says: “With Newquay being a plastic-free zone, the team and I are passionate about making a difference to the community and the world around us.”

Recycle Bound is the culmination of two years of testing and trials. It is stronger than other resin solutions, has higher tensile strength and can hold more weight. Its perme­able properties make it sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS)-compliant. A melting point of 250°C means it will not melt in the way that some alternatives, like tarmac, would.

While it currently costs more to make, Oltco is pricing Recycle Bound the same as its other resin bound driveways to establish the product.

It may soon be used by a major fast food chain for its drive-throughs, as well as archi­tects and developers looking to use eco-materials and the general public. In the future, the business, which has just launched a fran­chise scheme, would like to see more local plastics collection points, perhaps by county, so that local materials loops are used to create the product.

Recycle Bound has the same 20-year guar­antee as the company’s other resin bound solu­tions. If one of its driveways needs to be replaced, the Recycle Bound solution can be taken up, crushed and graded, then relaid as a base layer for the new driveway or a new drive­way can be laid directly on top of it.

Oltco has calculated that the equivalent of 3,000 plastic straws is used per square metre of Recycle Bound.

Pluumo by Aeropowder

Since MRW last featured Aeropowder – a start-up seeking to develop sustainable products from waste feathers from the poultry sector – the business officially launched its Pluumo thermal packaging product in July 2018. The product, which harnesses the insu­lation properties of feathers, is designed as an environmentally friendly packaging solution for temperature-sensitive goods. It matches the performance of polystyrene, while its natural padding also helps to protect goods during transportation.

Co-founder Ryan Robinson explains that the business has been supplying its product to a butcher in Oxford and has also been engaging with the growing meal kit delivery sector – which would be an ideal market. “Sustainable packaging is more and more important to the public,” he says. He adds that those who order food online tend to be middle class and more aware of sustainability.

The company is trying to work with packag­ing distributors to get Pluumo out to market and has had its second manufacturing run. Currently its feather supplier is in Europe and the product is being made in Denmark. The long-term plan is for the supply, manufacture and distribution to work on a local basis once the product has established itself.

Aeropowder is seeking compostable certifi­cation for Pluumo, which comes at a cost but would give the product more sustainability credentials. Robinson explains that the cost of Pluumo is in line with other sustainable options, such as wool, which typically come at a 15-20% premium on regular packaging options. Its initial focus is on companies that have sustainability on their agendas.

While the business is still very much trying to establish itself and its footing, it has clear aims to increase customer numbers and man­ufacturing this year and grow its team.

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