Our Research Focus: Converting a Problem into a Solution

Article by James Young AMIChemE

James Young asks chemical engineers if they’re ready to realise the potential in creating feedstock from waste streams in the quest for decarbonisation

LET'S be clear, every industry has a waste stream, and one that is often expensive to deal with. But if we think of a waste stream as a feedstock in the wrong location, how many other industrial problems could we solve? With this discussion we establish new opportunities for products, services, sustainable business, jobs and economic competition – not just in monetary value, but a new currency: carbon.

During my years as a PhD student at Queens University Belfast (QUB), I was fascinated with the creation of value from waste through engineering approaches producing innovative products. My research focused on processing fifth-quarter meat byproducts to include offal and various liquid streams from abattoirs into a nutraceutical portfolio. Nutraceuticals are food supplements, and so not sitting in the normal classification of food nor pharmaceuticals. During these years, I witnessed the development of products for treating osteoarthritis and breaking down gallstones. Many of these processes were researched and developed in the laboratory, modelled via Aspen software and later applied to a full working industrial scale.

Figure 1: ZCC members launching the first zero carbon co-operative in Northern Ireland

Now, I have successfully set up the first zero carbon co-operative (ZCC) in the UK and Ireland facilitated by the Centre for Competitiveness (CforC) with funding from the Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE) through the Green Innovation Challenge Fund. The intention set out by the ZCC group is to have an “Energy Island” established and based on a biorefinery principle to be operational by 2026, processing manures and injecting biomethane to the gas grid, utilising a net-zero approach.

ZCC is formed between Dale Farm, CEMCOR, Tobermore Concrete and Road Safety Contracts Group, unleashing the net-zero innovation potential of their businesses and achieving their environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives. For them, the proposed “waste-to-watts” approach has the potential to promote: (i) the adoption of low-carbon farming practices; (ii) the development of low-carbon agri-food products; (iii) decarbonised fuel for transport vehicles; and (iv) decarbonised construction products (see Figure 2).

Article by James Young AMIChemE

Lead chemical engineer in decarbonisation & sustainability, Mid Ulster ZCC

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