How Standard Gas can convert the world's non-recyclable waste into carbon-removing, renewable energy.
TechPros.io Interview with David Whitmarsh
CEO, Standard Gas Technologies Ltd
Today, up to 50% of the world's waste is non-recyclable or 'residual'. Most of it is ending up in landfills, being incinerated, or worst of all, just dumped into the environment. UK-based Standard Gas Technologies Ltd believes the process it has developed, patented, and is commercialising can transform waste management into a key part of the Circular or Regenerative Economy and make a significant contribution to the mitigation of Climate Change and the goals of Net Zero. In an exclusive interview with TechPros.io, the Company’s CEO David Whitmarsh explains.
What’s Standard Gas doing that’s so innovative and transformative?
We’ve taken a technology that’s existed for millennia and updated it for the needs of a world facing huge challenges with waste, pollution, energy resources and Climate Change. We use advanced thermal treatment to convert a wide range of wastes into two co-products: a clean gas for energy generation – gas for the grid, electricity, renewable transport fuel, chemical feedstock, even hydrogen - and a carbon-capturing char, which can be sequestered in construction products or used for soil conditioning. We don’t burn waste. Basically, we bake it at high temperature in the absence of oxygen, which separates the gas from the solid while avoiding combustion. It’s similar to the age-old process of charcoal production, getting a fuel from wood. But we’re processing far more complex materials, ranging from biogenic and mixed wastes to plastics. The gas generated in the first stage of our process is then heated to over 1000°Celsius to produce a very clean, highly calorific gas which can be used to generate the energy or products I mentioned before. What’s special about our technology is the level of efficiency we’ve achieved while being capable of processing both homogenous and heterogeneous or mixed wastes. Successfully processing complex mixed waste is the Holy Grail. It was seen as an impossible challenge to overcome. But we have!
Tell us about the origins of Standard Gas, and the company’s vision?
Processing mixed waste on a commercial scale without either burning or burying it has remained one of the world’s biggest challenges and untapped opportunities, until now that is. Today, Standard Gas is at the forefront of a waste management and renewable energy revolution. The company originated around 2010. It was set up by a group of entrepreneurs, primarily from the UK real estate sector, who wanted to find innovative ways to help them decarbonise or provide low-carbon commercial buildings. I became involved in about 2012 through my own interests in property, as a chartered surveyor specialising in investment and development. One of my property clients, Brian Reynolds, was very keen on decarbonising real estate and had come across a group of engineers exploring low-carbon energy systems who had developed a near-commercial scale prototype plant in Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. I went to view it with another potential investor – Ed Falkman- formerly Chairman and CEO of Waste Management International plc, who had spent his lifetime working in the waste industry on a global basis. The Huntingdon plant we saw was processing mixed waste, with very clean gas and char coming out the other end. Beforehand, Ed had been skeptical, saying similar systems had always been hamstrung by tar generation. But seeing Ed’s genuine awe – “It’s magic!” he said - was all I needed to know the company was onto something big, and that these guys had developed something with real potential. Ed and I invested, and over the next few years my interest in the technology and in the sector really strengthened. When a few years later the company asked if Ed and I would support the management, we said yes - if we could run the company. They agreed, and I took over as CEO, and Ed as Executive Chairman. We knew we could take Standard Gas’s potential to the next level and make the business highly investable.
Where have you got to so far, and what’s the scale of the opportunity before you?
The output of the Huntingdon prototype plant was certified “End of Waste” by the UK’s Environment Agency, which is a high-level recognition of the quality of the gas that we are producing. But we recognised the technology, the plants, and the output all needed to be commercially viable. This has meant attracting first class manufacturing partners, supply chain partners and contractors that are fundable, and that’s what we’ve spent the last few years doing. We’d already invested around £30m developing the technology. Then In 2021, we raised £17.6m from a small group of family offices and private investors to begin the building of our final product: the SG100, which can process 40,000 tonnes of waste a year, and produce roughly one megawatt-hour of energy per tonne. In other words, we can produce around 40,000 megawatthours of energy per year – which is significant. It’s enough to power 10,000 homes. Having raised the new funds, we began manufacturing in June of last year, and we’re now close to finishing that SG100.01, with a view to commissioning and testing it before moving into a multiple rollout deployment phase. We’re already holding very exciting discussions with some of the world’s biggest corporate organisations, too. This is where significant potential lies. Because we aren't burning the waste (we're just drawing the gas away from the solid), we’re effectively removing carbon from the atmosphere as part of our process, as we are capturing physical, solid carbon. Following a successful study with the University of Edinburgh, we’re now conducting studies with concrete and cement companies to explore potential in using this carbon in concrete as a binding agent, which would be deemed 1,000-year carbon sequestration. Depending on the waste feedstock processed, the SG100 can also remove up to 16,000 tonnes of carbon, which is what about 5,000 cars emit in a year. In fact, we had a number of third-party specialists – Columbia University, Cranfield University, and the environmental consultant South Pole – review our technology and judged it carbon-negative. It’s really exciting.
What’s the global opportunity, beyond developed countries for example?
The global opportunity is huge. We’re a UK company so our initial rollout will be focused in the UK and Northern Europe, largely because there's mature infrastructure around the collection, separation, and pre-processing of waste, as well as strict regulations around its treatment and disposal. But our solution has fantastic potential to transform waste disposal in fast-growing markets like India, China, and across Southeast Asia. We’ve already met with ministers in the Indian government, who are pushing the Clean Air India agenda, and from that we’ve had a couple of engineering groups from India come over and see our prototype. One of them said, “I’ve scoured the earth for something like this.” In India alone, there's scope for thousands of units. In fact, we have an ambition to set up a Standard Gas foundation to proactively support highly-polluted and less-developed regions of the world by install our plants to clean up and do something useful with plastics and other wastes that have been strewn in and around rivers and could make their way into the oceans. We’ve been out to Shanghai as well, and found a lot of interest in the potential for our technology for processing waste. We’ve also met with a group that’s very committed to investing in sub-Saharan Africa - an oil and gas business that’s looking to transition away from fossil fuels, by simultaneously processing waste and providing clean sustainable energy.
What one message above all would you like readers to take away from this interview?
That there’s a better way of processing waste and plastic than burning, burying, or just dumping it. The Net Zero ambitions of countries and companies underline the need for a better, cleaner way of treating waste to recover the value it contains. Even the waste companies are open to this. We’re not saying that we have to replace landfill or incineration, though we’d like to. But in the medium term, we can support the transition from burying and burning waste with a better, complementary option. But I do believe we have the scope to really help decarbonise the ‘hard to abate’ industries such as cement and concrete, commercial transportation, including shipping, and steel - those energy-intensive heavy industrial sectors that are struggling to reduce their intentions carbon emissions. Given the carbon-negative nature of our energy-generating technology, we believe our solution is something they'll all want to know about.
We capture carbon and renewable energy from waste using a low-cost sustainable alternative. Most non-recyclable plastics and other wastes are burnt or buried, adding to environmental issues and atmospheric CO2. Our technology helps protect the planet by removing carbon and harnessing the energy-rich resources that society is unable to recycle. The advanced thermal cracking technology used in our SG100 plant transforms waste into a clean synthesis gas (syngas) and biochar that captures and removes carbon. It does not burn waste, so has no problematic emissions. It will transform the management of society’s waste from a problem into a solution.
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