Keeping up with Jones
He's one of the waste industry's brightest sparks - and usually streets ahead in his thinking around modern resource management. Maxine Perella finally catches up with Peter Jones
The rising value of waste has not gone unnoticed by Peter Jones. During his time at Biffa - a company he left in 2008 having spent 19 years there - he was already setting the wheels in motion for pioneering initiatives with the likes of Sainsbury's to tap into the organic potential of food waste; projects which are only now starting to take flight.
His penchant for bold opportunity sets Jones apart from his peers. In many ways, his thinking dares to tread into futuristic landscapes - ones which are dominated by waste, or 'scrap carbon' as he prefers to call it. And in this brave new world, if you want to get ahead, a bit of lateral thinking is required. For Jones feels that traditional models of waste management could be rendered redundant in years to come.
"The industry needs a completely different set of strategies, it is moving into a much higher technology area," he argues. "Players outside of the industry are being to realise that there is money to be made in converting waste into stuff that you can sell at the back end of the process, either as recyclate, combined heat and power, electricity, gas or transport fuels."
According to Jones, this market shift towards resource management rather than waste management is already starting to threaten the dominance of the 'big six' waste contractors.
"We are moving into fairly complex areas of chemistry, mechanical engineering ad physics. The traditional waste companies are not at home with that process ... that's why we're now starting to see massive fragmentation occur within the sector after years of consolidation."
As the value of waste shifts from the front end to the back end of process management, gate fees will weaken and companies will be left reliant on the quality of the output - and the higher the value of that output, the more competitive businesses will become, reasons Jones.
Many would agree it is an evolutionary time for the sector as it looks to reposition itself and take advantage of the growing threat over materials scarcity and energy security. For Jones, the latter is critical for the UK - and because of that, it is the most bankable.
"I think it's a racing certainty now that we face the threat of energy supply shortages. The Government is not going to turn the lights out on domestic users, but there are a lot of bluechip companies out there that are worried."
That said, these businesses represent 'energy islands' where innovative treatment processes could be sited, maintains Jones. "You map the energy nodes and the energy demand from that node decides the waste technology. The site drives the energy, the energy drives the waste technology and the waste technology defines the feedstock that then decides what process you put in, such as a materials recovery facility or refuse-derived fuel plant."
According to Jones, the UK energy market is worth over £100bn compared to the value of secondary materials at around £2bn. For him, energy recovery is where the money is because it offers reduced risk and greater certainty. "The waste-to-energy sector is fundable - it's all about hard economics," he argues.
In his line of thinking, there are four pillars - or support mechanisms - to every bankable waste project. These rely on getting the right feedstock, technology, site location, and exit market. Simple enough in theory, but bringing those four elements together in practice is a lot more challenging - but that's where Jones' latest venture, Waste2Tricity, comes in.
Set up in 2009, the company acts as a structured solutions provider, or collaborator, for waste-to-energy projects. Jones chairs its board and says the company vision was very clear from its inception - to achieve maximum price for the output.
"We play a facilitating role, like a clutch mechanism, working across the industry. We want to turn scrap carbon into saleable carbon and provide knowledge in the market to drive a value proposition through collaboration," he explains.
Currently Waste2Tricity is involved in three projects that it believes could define the future dynamics of the energy-from-waste market. One of these is a site in Teeside, where industrial gas supplier Air Products has planning permission to develop a 49MW advanced gasification facility that will look to produce high value hydrogen gas from waste.
Jones says this venture is "a classic example of a sideways entry of a new player into the waste industry" - because hydrogen production is heavily fossil dependant, Air Products saw the potential of tapping into the UK waste arena and exploiting it as an alternative, renewable feedstock.
Waste2Tricity is also investigating opportunities to site facilities next to large energy users, which could offer the potential for co-investment. "We've just identified a site in the East Midlands with a property company," says Jones. "My skills are around the waste box and that facilitation role, but we've got other people who have skills around fuel cells and engineering."
While he believes the technology his company facilitates is "genuinely mould-breaking", Jones is realistic enough to know it won't be suitable for every scenario. But he says if companies are to survive and prosper, then making a healthy economic return on the waste they manage will be vital - especially as competition around future feedstocks is set to heighten.
Maxine Perella is editor of edieWaste