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Small-scale AD tackles global waste

A sustainable energy firm from Southampton has been through an intensive business acceleration process run by NASA and Nike. Sandra Sassow, chief executive of SEaB Energy, explains how it has benefited.

Space agency NASA, sportswear giant Nike, the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of State have joined together to identify, showcase and support innovative solutions to meet the urgent sustainability challenges that are facing the global society.

They created the Launch programme (see box below) and, after tackling the issues of health, energy and water, addressed the subject of waste under the title Launch: Beyond Waste.

NASA says Launch allowed it to make connections between the resource challenges faced onboard the International Space Station and those on Earth. The programme provides NASA’s problem-solving expertise for crucial conversations on sustainability-related topics with innovative problem solvers from around the world.

Last summer, this initiative selected nine global game-changing technologies that it believed has the potential to transform current waste management systems and practices. Only one of these nine came from Europe.

That product was the Muckbuster, an innovative small-scale, on-site anaerobic digestion (AD) solution developed by Southampton-based SEaB Energy.

The company had identified a growing need for a greater choice of distributed power generation options in the renewables sector, and established that AD was the most attractive technology.

It also realised that, due to reasons including geographical barriers, planning issues and the desire by many organisations to become more self-sustainable, centralised large-scale AD could not be the only solution for converting organic waste to energy. Its solution was the Muckbuster, a micro-AD unit housed in a shipping container.

As SEaB Energy chief executive and founder, I joined the other eight Launch innovators for a three-day Forum at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The sessions were designed to identify key challenges and opportunities for the entrepreneurs’ innovations in an effort to more rapidly accelerate their solutions toward greater impact in the real world.

This experience has given SEaB Energy a springboard to engage with many of the Launch Council members - a multi-disciplinary group of leaders and stakeholders whose expertise, networks and resources are designed to strengthen innovator strategies, expand their networks and resources, and amplify their potential for global impact.

But it was not the first time in 2012 that SEaB Energy was honoured. In April the company was chosen as one of the 16 most innovative and fastest growing cleantech companies in Britain.

We were subsequently invited to join the Clean and Cool Mission 2012, an entrepreneurial trade mission to San Francisco to meet potential investors and supply chain partners.

The company demonstrated to the city’s mayoral office the amount of energy it could derive from its composted waste using the Muckbuster. As well as eliminating the huge cost of transport, it would deliver electricity to support 11,000 homes. The San Francisco team is currently pursuing the opportunity to put this into practice.

Then in May 2012, Muckbuster scooped the Test Valley Technology and Innovation Business Award and the UK Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Industry Award for Best Micro AD Project Smaller Than 250kWh.

The Muckbuster and its sister unit the Flexibuster are compact and easy-to-install turnkey AD systems (see box below), with enormous potential.

Interest in the Muckbuster has grown enormously during the course of the year, and SEaB Energy is currently in discussions with a number of public and commercial organisations that have seen the value in such AD technology.

Sandra Sassow, chief executive of SEaB Energy

Launch: a mission in waste

As the world’s stocks of carbon-based fuels get increasingly scarcer, and the costs of extraction and supply get harder to bear, the demand for a safe and sustainable solution to future energy needs has never been greater. The world is also faced with a growing food waste mountain, highlighted recently by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, when it revealed that as much as half of all the food produced globally every year ends up as waste.

Effective action is now slowly being taken to tackle these issues, and initiatives such as Launch are playing a vital role in accelerating sustainable zero waste and waste-to-energy strategies.

Launch invited design proposals for innovative zero-waste solutions, waste elimination, waste transformation and waste mitigation technologies. It also focused on waste reduction education, business and financial strategies that had the potential to reduce and/or eliminate waste at a household, community, office, campus or industrial level.

Applications were received from more than 500 companies across the globe - and nine were selected.

Muckbuster and Flexibuster

The Muckbuster and its sister unit the Flexibuster are fully automated, self-optimising micro-AD systems housed in transportable containers, enabling low-cost delivery, rapid installation and ease of operation.

The systems are designed to operate economically and produce an attractive payback. With income from Feed-in Tarrifs and Renewable Heat Incentives, the modelled payback is just three years using two tonnes a day of high-yielding bio waste, such as bakery residue.

Muckbuster and Flexibuster are typically specified into sites producing between 200 and 1,000 tonnes of food and bio waste a year, and are designed to produce up to 55kW of electricity and 68kW of heat continuously. The systems also provide PAS110 pasteurisation so that residual organic digestates can be sold as organic fertiliser or mulch.

As well as small-scale commercial organic waste producers, the systems have wide appeal in the developed and developing world, particularly in areas that are off-grid, and in specific vertical markets, such as disaster recovery and military applications.

Because the systems use little water they are suitable for regions where water is a scarce resource.

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