Lean2Sustain Blog

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Green Light for WE Wind Farm

 

The UK government has recently given the green light for the next phase of the EA Wind Farm off the coast of Norfolk. It looks like Scottish Power are going to have some stiff competition in the bidding process from DONG Energy.

These processes will hopefully drive down the unit energy cost for consumers and encourage the suppliers to think more long term in terms of sustainability and project life cycle. Alberto Gandolfi (Head of Research at Goldman Sachs) is predicting that  solar energy & wind energy costs are coming down significantly, with a predicted elimination of subsidies by 2020. Improved technology, with larger turbines and blades is facilitating the harvesting of energy at wind speeds as low as 10 knots. This will be better in the long term for consumers, with deflationary pressure on electricity pricing, and will add further traction to investment in renewable power.

It is an exciting time for the EA region with large investment in turbines and potentially Sizewell “C” nuclear facility. It will be interesting to see if the improvements in “renewables”  will put pressure on the viability of nuclear, given that Sizewell is still a way from its final approval. Progress on renewable energy sources is definitely going in the right direction.

 

Extending the Life

 

There was a very interesting article in the June TCE (Chemical Engineer Magazine) around battery recycling particularly in respect to EV’s, in an article called “Back from the Dead”. A company called Aceleron, ar looking behind the science, data and technology for getting the most out of Li Ion cells used in EV batteries. The sad fact is that when these batteries come to the end of their commercial life,there is 70% of SOH (State of Health) or a measure of its performance remaining. Recycling and recovering LiIon batteries is not inexpensive, and in certain case the processing can cost in real terms, more tha using new Li, and starting from scratch. Herein lies the problem, because Li is a significant element in all electronic devices. As reported in the TCE a few years back, Li is one of the rapidly disappearing elements of the periodic table. Batteries that are used for motive power also have some of the harshest usage profiles as you would imagine versus those that are used for storing energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar power.

The Eu Battery directive and UK environmental laws. state that it is the OEM , that is responsible for disposal, which is clearly the right approach, and will force EV makers to think about efficiency, recycling in a way that is both good for the consumer, and with hopefully the lowest environmental footprint. According to Aceleron, the Nissan leaf is the most popular EV in the UK with sales of circa  40,000 as of Q4 2016. Nissan estimates that disposal could cost around £2,500, which equates to circa 15% of the purchase price, which obviously a huge headache. The reason for the high processing cost is the fact that there are so many  different materials present in the battery. The active materials are often powder coated onto the metal foil, which adds another level of complexity and difficulty. There are no recycling facilities currently in the UK, but a handful in Belgium, Germany and France. Furthermore, the batteries are classed as hazardous waste.

Aceleron have developed a testing regime, that includes physical inspection, and electro-chemical testing,  which will determine whether the batteries are fit for re-use. There is a lot of potential energy storage currently been thrown away, and they state there is a still a lot more work to be done. It’s imperative that the testing continues, and more efficient and sustainable processes are found for battery “re-lifing”.

A Circular Economy – A Paradigm too far ?

For as long as I can remember we have lived in a boom-bust economy.  Our GDP linked to global  markets – at the mercy of the next world economy to come on stream wanting to develop infrastructure and create commercial growth as far as the money lasts.  We gear up to meet demand, and then fall into recession when the bubble bursts, creating hardship and casualties for those caught up in fallout.  These boom bust cycles create a linear sine wave and we have continued along this road since the industrial revolution.  With increasing consumerism, the product life of fashions and trends plus the built in obsolescence of electrical and other goods provides a short term GDP focus on end markets.  All too soon products become discarded creating an increasing waste stream paid for by the householder through taxation.  As consumers we are trapped onto the treadmill of buying the latest trend, only to pay for its disposal sooner rather than later.    “If we keep  doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep on getting what we’ve always got” or words to that effect.

Arguably the environmental impact of the boom to bust scenario means that the environment fares better when we are in recession mode.  Having to be increasingly creative with less means we become more imaginative and inventive.  We also use less resources and utilities, and therefore create less waste for disposal.

So how do we break away from the feast or famine circus?   What if there was an alternative to being duped into buying a product, only to find that we don’t need it anymore, and have to pay again to dispose of it?

There is a revolution on the horizon, that of a ‘circular economy’ which concentrates effort on maintaining the resources and energy within the lifecycle of the products created.  Instead of developing   products for sale, that have a shelf life of “x” years that are not designed for repair, manufacturers start to build in product longevity whilst considering life cycle, which in turn challenges the boom / bust scenario.  By designing products that are of a robust quality, able to be repaired, adjusted, modified and made fit for our purposes during use where the components become re-manufactured back into the process, the shelf life becomes infinity.  Great we all hail, but the really neat thing is that some of these pioneer companies are considering hiring their products as a service. The manufacturer no longer designs products for sale to the consumer, but instead they sell the use of that product, taking responsibility for its lifetime. What if we no longer purchased, used, outgrew and disposed of goods, but instead bought into the use of a home laundry service, or a supply of bikes for our children that grew with them?   This may sound far fetched but companies like Isla bikes have started to introduce such schemes. A British Standard has just been launched providing guidance to organisations around how to apply holistic thinking to product design.

With the economic benefit of the circular economy being estimated at 18 trillion Euros in Europe, and the creation of 200,000 new jobs in the UK by 2030*, the opportunity for decoupling our ties with linear resource use and the associated environmental impact are immense.

Breaking out of the boom bust will  not be an easy option, but what an opportunity to challenge the current paradigm and introduce a new circular era.

*World Economic Forum 2017 Register of Global Risks of Highest Concern for Doing Business.

Rubber (Plastic) Roads

 

If you hear the words rubber roads a number of things come to mind. As a amateur racing driver, I think potentially more “grip”. There is a new phenomena taking place. The concept of recycled plastic containers and bottles being combed from our seas and waste dumps, to be converted and substituted for the bitumen that binds our road asphalt. India has been doing it since 2002, and the Netherlands is now actively pursuing it. We have also done some pilots in the UK. This is a brilliant example of recycling. Plastic materials have very long bio-degradation times, and it can take 450 years for a plastic bottle to fully degrade. Anything that can take plastic away from is a real is a real positive. Furthermore, by removing them from the sea and rivers we can further protect fragile marine life. Plastics have a high calorific value, and waste plastic has been considered as an alternative for fossil fuels, but of course this would increase COx. Re-utilising is also a powerful way to reduce landfill, and head to the UK goal of zero landfill by 2020. It also fits in with the framework of the new 6R sustainability system that goes beyond reduce, reuse, recycle to recover, redesign, and re-manufacture.

These are now being pioneered in the UK, and an enterprising company in Scotland has developed the plastic pellet blend that will bind the aggregate. The roads are are pothole free and more hard-wearing, which is solving 2 problems in one. Potholes are a massive issue on UK roads, and these plastic repairs are more robust. This is where Lean thinking is definitely helping sustainability. If you want to know more about this concept, and how we may be able to help you, please download the paper “Delivering Sustainable Value”  from our site. Please also contact us on change@lean2sustain.com if you wish to know more.

 

 

 

 

Alternative Transport

 

There is a lot in the press at the moment about sustainable transport , e-cars, hybrid cars, hydrogen trains, LNG powered super-tankers, but what about e-bikes. These are gradually gaining profile. Traditionally used for leisure in hilly areas and for people want the benefit of the outside but struggle with the undulating train, now these are perfect for the city or suburban dweller. An estimated 1.8 million Britons commute more than 3 hours to work in over crowded trains, cramped and stressed conditions. There are plenty of cyclists who commute in the cities, but have the chore of wearing cycling clothing and often in need of a shower on arrival.  As e-bikes can eliminate the strenuous bits, then the need for  specialist clothing and a shower can be alleviated.  Charging times are getting faster , and bikes can charging simply at work without the need for space consuming bays that cars require. For some this could be the perfect commute vehicle, and also recreational vehicle at the weekends.

 

 

Sustaining & Saving

A fantastic announcement from the new owners of the Lochaber Smelter this week. They are going to produce automotive  components from a new manufacturing facility on the site. Initial planned investment is £120m, leading to an ultimate planned investment of £450m. This is an excellent example of how “business”, “lean” and “sustainability” can work in harmony. The smelting process, already harnesses the electrical power required from the the hydro-system, which is a renewable. Shortening the supply chain by having aluminium billets available for manufacture on site is classic “Lean” thinking. In addition to saving time, it will improve the environmental footprint, by reducing emissions related to transportation. I have been lucky enough to visit the site on a number of occasions, and the people were wonderful. A great and well deserved boost for the local economy.


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