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Council trial finds “breakthrough” technology could dramatically cut UK waste

The trial suggests that if the HERU was rolled out across the UK, it could prevent 13.5 million tonnes of resource entering the UK’s waste system.

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A six-month waste pilot by Wychavon District Council in the UK has seen 420 kilos of rubbish diverted from the waste system.

 

The Home Energy Resources Unit (HERU), which has been dubbed ‘the new Dyson’, takes everyday items which would have been destined for disposal, such as coffee cups, plastics and nappies, and converts them into energy to heat water for homes or commercial buildings.

 

The company says the trials suggest that if the HERU was rolled out across the UK, it could prevent 13.5 million tonnes of resource entering the UK’s waste system.

 

How HERU works

 

The HERU uses an industrial heat treatment process called pyrolysis, at temperatures up to 300°C, and patented heat pipe technology.

 

Everything from paper, card, packaging, plastics, garden clippings and uneaten food is converted into oil, gas and charcoal which is combusted. When there is nothing in the home to process, the boiler reverts back to conventional fuel sources, and the whole process leaves nothing behind except a small pile of ash.

 

The only materials which can’t go into the HERU are metal and glass.

 

In action in Wychavon

 

Wychavon District Council has been operating the HERU at three locations, five days a week, every week for six months, adding up to 8,500 hours of testing. The analysis finds that if the Council’s savings were multiplied by all of the homes in the UK (27 million), the HERU could prevent 13.5 million tonnes of resource from entering the UK waste system in just six months.

 

The testing also showed that the energy produced during the six-month trial was 1,050 kWh for the one machine. If applied to all homes in the UK, the material that would otherwise have been thrown away could produce 28.3 billion kWh of energy directly to the home in six months.

 

The material that would otherwise have been thrown away could produce 28.3 billion kWh of energy directly to the home in six months.

 

The analysis of the data, coupled with an independent assessment of the technology by Ricardo Energy & Environment in 2018, found that the HERU could save each UK household around 72kg of CO2 annually. As the electric grid becomes further decarbonised in line with government policy, it could save up to 1,200 kg of CO2 annually, equating to 32.4 million tonnes, or 8.8 per cent of the total UK carbon dioxide output if installed across UK households.

 

According to the company, the HERU has 68 per cent less global warming impact than co-mingled collections and 32 per cent less than kerbside collections, with 554 per cent and 733 per cent less respectively if the HERU was powered by the same renewable energy mix as Norway used in 2012. HERU powered with 100 per cent renewable energy would deliver greater results again, the company said.

 

Impact for cities

 

The impact for cities could be significant too. According to the Local Government Association, councils in England spend £852 million per year on waste collection.

 

Councils in England spend £852 million per year on waste collection.

 

Disposing of waste has significant environmental impacts too. Greenpeace finds that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, including plastic bottles, bags, microbeads and more. It’s the equivalent of a truckload of rubbish per minute.

 

In many countries, waste that can’t be recycled is buried as landfill – some, although not all, will eventually rot but in the process, it may smell or create methane gas, which is explosive and contributes to the greenhouse effect. Landfill sites can also attract vermin.

 

Nik Spencer, HERU, with a representative from Wychavon District Council
Nik Spencer, HERU, with a representative from Wychavon District Council

Learning from F1 and aerospace

 

Nik Spencer, inventor of the HERU, commented: “I am incredibly pleased with the reliability of the trial unit, the effort that went into the testing before we delivered the HERU into the field has paid dividends. Having engineers from F1 and aerospace on our team helped us deliver the highest of quality and detail. And naturally, with any trial we have learnt things, so, for example, we changed the valve design to further improve reliability.”

 

He added: “We hope these trials will drive policy change, so when new homes are built they don’t have to contribute to the ever-growing problems. We are very much looking to our political figures to be part of this change and help Britain cement itself as pioneers in green technologies on a global basis.”

 

The tests of the home size HERU unit are also driving the design of the commercial HERU, the 240-litre machine is approximately 12 times bigger in capacity, utilising 12 times more resource and expected to produce 12 times more energy than the domestic unit.

 

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