Bio-power fuels - an expanding bio-industry that challenges the Environment Agency. By John Nicholson of Bio-Power Ltd.

Bio-Power is a not-for-profit company that promotes the development and use of bio-fuels, that can be used as a direct alternative to fossil fuels. It began when John Nicholson in North Wales made a simple bio-alternative fuel to keep the family car going during the fuel blockades. It now operates as an expanding network of Bio-power Agencies throughout the UK. Good quality used cooking oil is made into a range of bio-fuels to meet local needs. Bio-power is also working on nearly 30 projects overseas, the largest of which is in China.

Bio-power fuels are not the same as 'bio-diesel' which is rape seed methyl ester, or RME. Instead of shattering the lipid fat molecule to release the three hydrocarbon chains, the Bio-power process produces a large volume of fuel by modifying used cooking oil, and blending it with other natural oils, esters and essences to achieve an efficient and clean burn. This is accomplished without any chemical reactions, without any waste by-product like glycerol. It is therefore an efficient and environmentally responsible way of making a biofuel.

Bio-power runs a program of seminars to bring more people into its network of commercial scale Local Agents. Instead of processing the feedstock centrally, the collection and processing is done on a local basis. Bio-power agents collect used cooking oil from local kitchens, and then sell the fuel to meet local demand.

At an early stage, the concept was discussed with officers from the Environment Agency and received the most helpful and supportive response. The EA did point out the need not to be seen as providing a waste oil collection service as this would then fall subject to costly Waste Management Regulation. However, the Bio-power way of working was praised for both the environmental benefits in addressing the issues of Climate Change and Global Warming, and also for providing a new environmentally beneficial pathway for the material outside the waste stream. This was especially relevant in view of the impending ban upon the addition of used cooking oils to animal feeds in November 2004.

However, in the last few months Bio-Power's work has been aggressively challenged by the Environment Agency who now say that all used cooking oil is waste, regardless of whether or not it has been 'discarded' by any holder. This new position threatens the whole future of a bio-fuel industry in the UK, because the EA also claims that the material is only 'recovered' when it passes to the atmosphere as exhaust. Therefore every user of bio fuels in the UK also falls subject to Waste Management Regulation.

The consequential costs of having to comply with such a level of regulation would also make the bio-power operation non-viable. In turn this will also mean that much less of the material will be collected, and consequently it will be disposed of in ways that are damaging to the environment and to human health. Without a collection service used cooking oil will be poured down the sewer or disguised and sent to landfill, both of which are illegal. Whatever oil is collected is likely to be exported to the thriving German bio-diesel industry, which has grown up receiving the full support of its government.

There are also Bio-Power operations in most other EU nations, and throughout the world. But in no other nation is there such antagonism from the environmental authority as is experienced here in the UK. This is not unique to the Bio-power business. Many other UK businesses have planned and invested in new environmentally responsible projects, some of great size, and now find their operations will fall subject to Waste Management Regulations, and the investment of many £ millions in new plant being wasted.

The crux of this problem is not in the wording of the EU Waste Directive, but rather in the unusual way this directive is being implemented by the EA in the UK.

The purpose of the directive is to facilitate the development and use of best environmental practice, firstly by reducing the creation of waste, and secondly by the regulation of processes by which unavoidable waste is treated or disposed of to ensure the minimal environmental impact. Instead of following the intent of the Directive, the EA focuses only on the regulatory aspects, and this is resulting in a situation in which the whole purpose of the directive is now being undermined. Instead of helping to address the issues of Climate Change and Global Warming, the EA's position is actually exacerbating the situation, by making it uneconomic to provide alternative forms of renewable energy from available low cost hydrocarbons, simply because any such use through burning as a bio-fuel must be regulated as a waste disposal process.

In other nations the second use of materials or by-products, as a means of creating non-fossil, renewable energy, is not be regarded as waste disposal processes, but as commercially legitimate pathways for materials, outside the waste stream. This is exactly the position along which bio-power was initially encouraged to pursue by the EA, and it is the position observed elsewhere in Europe.

Bio-power is now working with Paul Keech MP to table an Early Day Motion to highlight the issues involved, and asking government to put pressure upon the EA to support and encourage the second use of materials as a bio-fuel where there is no serious threat to the environment or to human health.

Further information about Bio-power products and the program of seminars can be obtained from the web site at http://www.bio-power.co.uk or by telephone on 01286 830312.

John Nicholson. Secretary, Bio-power (UK) Ltd.


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