Coffee grounds and poultry litter proving a viable biomass option in the UK

As innovative waste coffee recycling firm bio-beans expands its collection service across the University of Birmingham, the UK Government has revealed that Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants using poultry litter will receive the highest tariffs under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

Both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that combusting poultry litter – a combination of manure and wood shavings from poultry barns – was a “uniquely sustainable” method for farms to power their operations.

Farmers using CHP stations to power their operations using the poultry litter will now apply for the highest tariff reliefs under the announcement. Farms using CHP biomass plants with poultry litter are saving on average 90% on carbon emissions compared to using liquid petroleum gas.

Commenting on the announcement, Cargill’s director of European poultry business and chair of the British Poultry Council John Reed said: “The Government deserves a lot of praise for helping to secure the future of sustainable poultry farming in the UK.

“This innovative technology is already showing huge improvements to bird animal welfare standards and end-to-end sustainability of our British farms. The industry looks forward to continuing to work with Ministers on the exciting progress of these renewable plants in the UK.”

Using the litter as a fuel reduces risk of acidification and eutrophication that can arise from land spreading and the process also reduces emissions of ammonia. In fact, estimates from CHP suppliers BHSL suggest that poultry farms using this method of biomass could become completely energy self-sufficient within two years.

BEIS has been warned that it is off course to meet its 2020 targets for renewable heat and transport. A report found that proposed reforms to the RHI, which will see heat pumps prioritised over biomass, was not the “optimal pathway” to meeting the heating goal, and should therefore be revised.

However, the Government is seemingly beginning to take heed of advice to focus on delivering low-carbon heating systems, with two announcements which could effectively reduce emissions from heating demand in towns and cities and begin to restore investor confidence in the neglected sector.

Running on coffee

While poultry litter biomass has received a boost across the country, using ground coffee waste for a similar purpose is expanding outside of London. Bio-bean has partnered with numerous coffee brands including Costa, to turn waste coffee into biofuel in the past. Around 15,000 homes have been heated by waste coffee grounds processed by bio-bean in the capital.

Bio-bean has this week expanded its collection route outside of London for the first time. The company has begun recycling coffee grounds for catering outfits located on the University of Birmingham campus.

“With more than 40,000 staff and students based on our campus in Edgbaston we anticipate that around 22 tonnes of coffee grounds are produced each year, so it is great to be able to work in partnership with companies like bio-bean and First Mile to maximise the use of our waste resources and support our Carbon Management Plan,” the University of Birmingham’s director of hospitality Stuart Richards said.

Spent coffee grounds will be transferred to bio-beans coffee recycling facility in Cambridgeshire to be processed into biofuels such as the innovative “coffee logs”. As part of a collaboration with companies including First Mile, Bio-bean is actively seeking to expand its collection service, which is available to businesses and coffee shops across Birmingham.

By working with Bio-bean, companies can save money on waste disposal costs and reduce emissions by diverting the coffee from landfill. For example, Italian-style coffee shop chain Caffé Nero is looking to extend its coffee-to-biofuel recycling scheme beyond greater London after a successful partnership with First Mile and Bio-Bean.

Nero expects to have converted 218 tonnes of used coffee grounds into 98 tonnes of biomass pellets – enough fuel to power the equivalent of 453 homes – when the retailer reaches the first annual milestone of its partnership with First mile and Bio-Bean in July.

Matt Mace

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