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Harnessing the power of the ‘Resource Grid’

Last month I was in Galashiels to see the launch of the UK’s first sewage-to-heat scheme at Borders College.

Iain Gulland | 19 Jan 16

A ground breaking initiative involving the College, Scottish Water and Sharc technology from Canada, the scheme uses a heat pump to amplify the natural heat from the main sewage pipe which runs alongside the college campus into heat for the various buildings on the site, meeting almost 95% of their heat needs.  This system can work wherever there is a sewer pipe – i.e. most of the populated places in Scotland. It’s accessible, can be retrofitted and could cut costs and CO2.

Thinking even bigger, there is potential for commercial premises which produce excess heat, for example through refrigeration, to export this into the sewer so that it can be used elsewhere. The vision is surely to see our waste water network as a potential heat utility.

The attraction is the availability of the network or the heat grid under our feet which is being tapped into for benefit. This is a clear example of looking at what we all imagine as a ‘waste,’ in a different way, by seeing it as a resource which can deliver significant economic benefits and carbon savings.

The idea that our current recycling infrastructure needs to be seen in similar terms, as something from which we should be able to generate economic and environmental benefit, is something I’m keen to promote. The attraction of the Galashiels project is the fact that the ‘grid’ (the sewer) is already in place and there is a consistent flow of material from which the value can be extracted.

So what is holding us back from doing the same in recycling terms? Firstly, the inconsistency of the supply of material and secondly, the variable pipe network (we have at least 32 different systems across local authorities in Scotland) with various outflow points along the way. To extract the maximum value both in price and local economic opportunity (through reprocessing of the material) it is clear that we need some degree of common supply chain and grid connectivity.

With those aims in mind, I am therefore delighted about the recent announcement of the Household Recycling Charter, a joint initiative of the Scottish Government and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to bring greater consistency to collections for household recycling across Scotland. This is a bold step to make it easier for the householder, wherever they live, to better understand what material goes where, but more than that, it is a real opportunity to create a consistent ‘grid’ which is part of every street in Scotland. Working in tandem with other important policy measures such as the Waste (Scotland) Regulations and work being done to drive up quality and broker materials into the market, it will help channel our valuable resources and provide the key to unlocking their value on a national scale.   

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