Technology rules

Paul White and David Golding explain how Defra aims to reduce business waste with the launch of its new BREW programme

The Business Resource Efficiency and Waste (BREW) Programme was formally launched by Defra in April this year, its focus being an innovative approach to tackling the business waste mountain at critical business stages. Nationally we are generating some 400 million tonnes of waste each year. Industrial and commercial waste accounts for around four fifths of this, more than half of which goes to landfill. Neither landfilling nor incineration provides sustainable long-term solutions for dealing with a level of waste on this scale.

When the government introduced the landfill tax escalator to stimulate reductions in the levels of business waste, it committed to returning the increases in tax to business in a revenue-neutral manner.

In line with this commitment, the BREW programme makes use of landfill tax receipts to fund programmes to support business in improving its resource efficiency; these programmes include waste minimisation and the diversion of waste from landfill.

The funding is distributed over three years, with £43 million for 2005/6, £95 million for 2006/7 and £146 million for 2007/8. Working with DTI, HMT and business stakeholders, Defra has identified a package of resource efficiency expenditure measures to use this funding.

The development of this programme ensures that the additional landfill tax will not only encourage businesses to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill, but will also assist them in developing ways to achieve this, often with considerable knock-on business benefits.

Some of the programmes being supported (see Box 1) by BREW will be familiar to firms, while others will be less so. The Market Transformation Programme and the DTI Technology Fund are two such programmes.

Reducing environmental impact

One way of reducing the environmental impact of products is to ensure they are designed to use all resources as efficiently as possible throughout their life cycle.

The Market Transformation Programme (MTP) aims to achieve improvements in the sustainability of products, systems and services in the areas of energy, waste and water, targeting products which pose significant harm to the environment and have good potential for improvement, now and in the future.

MTP is a UK government programme which supports the Sustainable Consumption and Production policy. Its approach encourages competition and innovation in sustainable product design. The programme collects independent data on products, including performance, sales and consumer use, in order to develop publicly available information.

This data is then used to explore future scenarios in partnership with business and helps to identify cost-effective actions we need to take now to avoid or reduce future impacts of product growth. Action plans may call for co-ordinated initiatives by industry, government and others at UK, EU and international levels. For example, as we progress to the switch-off of analogue television broadcasting, more and more analogue televisions will be converted to receive digital signals. These televisions and some video-recorders will require digital-to-analogue converters.

MTP forecasts that more than 50 million converters could be installed in UK homes in the run-up to the switch-off of analogue TV. Such a process could create a massive increase of energy consumption in this sector. Current low-cost converters tend to use inefficient first-generation silicon and 'wall pack' power supplies which often waste up to half the energy required in heat.

Many of these converters run at up to 22 Watts, often with no standby facility to make sure they go off when the television is off. This could waste more than 130 kWh of electricity annually - roughly equivalent to annual energy consumption of a small fridge.

Identifying solutions

A priority of MTP's work has been to co-ordinate designers and manufacturers to identify solutions to this potential energy burden - but the window of opportunity is narrow. For the average converter, as much as 100 kWh of electricity could be saved per year, but the new designs need to be adopted as soon as possible.

MTP's network of influence now extends far beyond Europe to key stakeholders in China and the USA. Digital television converters for China alone could amount to 1,000 million products before 2010 - all contributing to our atmosphere's CO2. To date, MTP has focused on reducing carbon emissions from products in-use. The challenge now is to extend MTP to address whole-life resource efficiency. For example, MTP is already addressing the water efficiency of domestic appliances and the issue of waste from televisions. As a direct result of recent BREW funding, in 2005/06 MTP plans to deal more comprehensively with:

  • Waste and hazardous materials arising at end of product life; and
  • Energy and water consumed through product manufacture.
  • Manufacturers and designers, service and systems providers, retailers and supply chain agents having a business interest in traded goods are encouraged to inform policy development through active participation with our product policy managers. MTP is also developing an extensive set of product standards and product performance databases - the Product Standards Information Base (PSIB). This provides off-the-shelf product specifications at minimum, average, best practice and best in class levels in the market today, and looking ahead to see how product standards may develop over time. Business can use this information to inform their product procurement and design strategies.

    A key programme

    The DTI's Technology Programme is another key programme that is receiving funding under the BREW programme, David Golding fills us in. It is widely accepted that we live in an era where there is a rapidly changing science base, a shortening product life-cycle and one where many new products require the fusion of more than one technology.

    These facts, coupled with increased global competition, falling trade barriers and production costs, amount to huge challenges for today's business. In response, successful businesses have increased their commitment to innovation to create value-added profitable products and services. In many areas, particularly high technology industries, successful delivery of innovative products requires businesses to work with each other and with the research community.

    One response to the issues is the DTI's Technology Programme, which was launched early in 2004. A board of senior business representatives has been appointed to provide strategic direction. Taking input from various stakeholders, the board recommends the technology areas that should be supported.

    Over the period 2005-2008, a total of £320 million of DTI funding will be available covering a range of technology areas, with an additional £50 million from Defra's BREW programme to support research projects in the areas of resource efficiency and waste.

    Competitions are held twice a year for collaborative research and development projects, with support also for Knowledge Transfer Networks. The competitions for Collaborative Research and Development projects are announced and managed largely online. Businesses can apply either in collaboration with other businesses or with universities and other research organisations.

    Three types of collaborative project are available:

  • Basic, to achieve a better understanding of where the research will lead to;
  • Applied research, where the research is directed to a particular aim or objective; and
  • Experimental development, which is nearer to market research.
  • Projects can receive up to a maximum of 75% of eligible costs for a basic science to business research project, tapering down to 25% funding for an experimental development project.

    Eliminating creation of wastes

    The £10 million BREW-funded November 2004 competition focused on waste management and waste minimisation. This included developing new technologies to reduce or eliminate the creation of wastes, finding new ways to reuse and recover waste products, the treatment of hazardous wastes, and finding alternatives to landfill. The competition attracted considerable interest and received 130 outline applications from which 44 full applications have been requested. It is anticipated that around half of those proposals will be funded, with the chosen projects due to start Summer 2005.

    The latest competition to be announced (April 2005) takes a new challenge based approach, seeking integrated solutions to tackle the negative impacts produced by an enterprise. For 'Meeting the Challenge of the Zero Emission Enterprise', £20 million of BREW funding is being committed to help stimulate business and academia to develop and deliver innovative and environmentally sustainable solutions to eliminating waste.

    This could be achieved through encouraging better process design, the use of new or improved materials, and process optimisation; which includes better in-line recovery, separation and reuse of materials. Additional benefits from actions in this area may also include water savings, energy efficiency and reduced effluent and gaseous emissions.

    The challenge to UK business is to move from simply mitigating adverse impacts towards reaching the Zero Emission Enterprise or even beyond, reaching a situation where the enterprise is not only a Zero Emission Enterprise, but a "restorative" enterprise providing a positive impact.

    The Challenge operates through a two-stage process - initially through supporting short feasibility studies, the best of which will be selected, leading to longer-term collaborative research and development projects, with the ability to make significant change. These large projects can receive up to £3 million which has to be at least matched by industry.

    For more information visit www.mtprog.com. Future Technology Programme competitions are scheduled for April and November each year, details are available at www.dti.gov.uk. For more information on the BREW programme visit www.defra.gov.uk.

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