There’s a full-scale public debate over taking necessary steps to avoid a climate crisis that can change world history. Global political and business establishments are setting ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Graeme Boiardini, President of 'Waste to Energy' at The Commonwealth Entrepreneurs Club, has been actively participating in this debate for years by developing his own groundbreaking 'green' companies in the UK.
A serial entrepreneur who has been involved with a number of private companies over the last 25 years, recently raised £20m for the 'Waste to Energy' company which has started to commercially operate and produce renewable fuels. He invests in start-up businesses in the property and renewable sector, where he feels he can offer support and capital and take these opportunities to commercial realization.
Following the release of Bill Gates’s book on climate change, we sat down with Graeme for a brief talk to discuss the latest green tech trends, and also:
What are the biggest environmental challenges the UK faces nowadays and what should be done to mitigate them
Why the industrial heat waste is one of the biggest lost opportunities
What is the core strategy to become carbon-neutral by 2050
Why nuclear energy shouldn’t be fully abandoned
Why hydrogen-based cars are much better than electric
What’s wrong with Elon Musk’s promise to grant a $100 million prize for the best technology to capture CO2
IK: Graeme, you have over 30 years of experience in property management. How did your journey in the renewable sector begin?
GB: It began by accident and wasn't planned. In 2013 a very good friend of mine and a business partner, who I had been working with for 14 years previously, asked me to have a look at a project, based in the North of Cambridge in a place called Huntington. He asked me to raise money for the 'Waste to Energy' project and I said yes.
So, over the next couple of years, I funded a project that was in Greenwich; that's how my journey with 'Waste to Energy' started.
I went from not really knowing much about this topic in 2013 to the more profound level of knowledge and real passion for it. Later on, that passion has turned into an obsession.
IK: In your opinion, what are the biggest environmental challenges the UK faces nowadays?
GB: Oh, we face a lot of challenges, but the biggest are the exponential population growth with increased consumer consumption and widespread use of fossil fuels.
There is a new UK government decision to permit the country’s first new deep coal mine for 30 years, despite its pledge to eliminate the net carbon emission by 2050. It will be operational until 2049 - one year before the net-zero kicks in. The coal will be extracted both from the UK land and out in the Irish Sea, and will be used in the steel industry.
Now, the steel industry equates to about nine to eleven percent of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions. The UK steel industry is huge, but the equipment and technologies are archaic. My point is that we shouldn't make steel in this country; we can't compete with India and China.
Next, as recently as 2017, 64.5% of the world's electricity was produced by burning fossil fuels. Obviously, we should stop burning fossil fuels and look at investing in technologies that will boost the production of renewable fuels.
I believe emissions avoided through renewable power generation are critical to the transition to net-zero. Today, three-quarters of global emissions can be tied to the energy sector. As long as people keep emitting any amount of greenhouse gases, the global temperature will keep rising.
IK: You have funded two green tech companies. What is the focus of 'Engen Systems' and the 'Waste to Energy' company?
GB: Engen is a British company established in 2020, pioneering the development of electricity-generating technology from waste heat.
70% of all energy produced globally is thrown away in the form of waste heat. That's a huge lost opportunity. Imagine being able to capture all this excess and transform it into useful energy. Now, imagine that energy being fed back into your business, driving down cost and CO2 emissions, making your company more sustainable, as a result.
'Engen Systems' converts the heat from industrial processes, whether it be engineering or manufacturing, into electricity. This is really an interesting technology because we do not burn fossil fuels, we just use something that is in abundance. This technology could mean significant electricity generation in the UK and, I believe, it will revolutionize the electricity production from waste heat. In the UK alone, there are more than 20,000 businesses that could use this.
'Engine Systems' will go live in April of this year to install its equipment for the companies that produce an abundance of waste heat to convert it to green renewable electricity.
The 'Waste to Energy' company uses man-made products like plastic, rubbish that has been thrown away, non-recyclable things that would normally end up being buried or incinerated in the UK, and turns them into renewable green fuels.
The 'Waste to Energy' power station. This working plant processes 20 tonnes per hour of Britain's worst waste.
IK: Do you own patented ‘green technologies’? If so, what’s the essence of these technologies?
GB: The technology owned by 'Engen Systems' has been developed over the last 41 years. At 235 degrees, we generate 30 bar of steam pressure and turn it into electricity. This is the most efficient electricity generation system in the world at that heat level. We have got four patents on this system.
The other technology is called pyrolysis. It works like a waste refinery for plastics and other man-made products and turns them back into the fuel they originated from. The process breaks them down and, as a result, gets more of the energy from the waste feedstock than achieved by burning in incineration. The output is green, renewable fuels.
This process creates a synthesis gas that can directly drive an electricity generation system, whether it be a gas turbine or a gas reciprocating piston engine, that generates electricity. This electricity can then be used to power the local community. We also have an advanced cleaning process for our gases and emissions that meets the guidelines set by the Environment Agency.
Another outcome of this process is a carbon-based product that can be used as a replacement or in conjunction with coal. This product is much cleaner for use in electricity and power generation, as it emits less pollution than coal.
The carbon-based product can be also used as an alternative to the wood pellets that are being used in power production around the UK.
A lot of our coal power stations have been converted into wood pellets, but burning wood is more harmful to the environment than burning coal.
The reason why the UK has embraced turning our old coal power stations into wood pellets is that the European Union stated that if you burn wood that is sustainably harvested (when you plant a sapling for every tree that you cut down) it's renewable fuel or renewable energy. In my opinion, it’s not even close to it.
Imagine you cut down a tree that is 100 years old and you burn it in a power station. Then you release all of the carbon into the atmosphere at once. It will take that sapling, that has been planted 100 plus years, to sequester the carbon that is being put directly into the atmosphere immediately just by burning that tree.
The only reason why countries have embraced it is because they have to follow the European Union Renewable Energy Directive. According to this directive, we have to produce 32% of electricity from renewable resources by 2030 and wood pellets have been qualified as a renewable energy source. In fact, it’s more damaging to the environment than burning coal.
IK: What is the core strategy to fulfill the very ambitious climate agenda, which includes a carbon-free grid by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050? What will it take to align the industrial sector with net-zero?
GB: The simple answer is, I don't think a lot of the countries that have signed up to this, actually know how they're going to do it yet. The UK will rely upon hydrogen as a key fuel in order to achieve this and the technology is good, but there is still much work to be done.
So, what we have to do in order to embrace the net-zero strategy (not just in the UK, but globally) is to stop our reliance upon fossil fuels. Governments around the world have to address the net-zero action plans. They need to invest more in developing renewable energy technologies that are at early stages. There is a need for grants, there is a need for funding to help these emerging technologies to become reality.
Needless to say, to avoid a climate disaster, we have to get to zero greenhouse gas emissions. There is a real need to make a transition to solar, wind, and other renewable energy, faster and smarter. We need to develop and support breakthrough technologies that will accelerate our path.
The goal isn’t to only reduce CO2 emissions but eliminate them. The only final goal should be zero.
The state of the climate crisis. The climate action tracker.
The companies that produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide as byproducts of their businesses, have to pay more in taxes so that it makes them invest more in green alternatives. This is through the carbon credit scheme. Over time, if these companies do not address this and do not become greener, they will have to pay more to buy the carbon credits to offset their polluting businesses.
IK: Speaking about waste, how will the waste problem evolve with time?
GB: Over the next 79 years, the world’s population is predicted to grow to above 12 billion people. And that’s a terrific number.
Over the next 59 years, global waste is projected to triple.
Just imagine, we are going to produce three times more waste in the next 59 years. To put this in perspective - today, if you lined up all of the garbage trucks, you would have a line of trash trucks from London to New York. We have to do something to address this, we can't just bury it. Globally, we still bury 70% of the waste that is produced. This waste can be used as a resource waste to energy.
IK: What are the most emerging green technologies nowadays? What else (except for renewable energy and recycling technologies) should be embraced globally to protect the environment?
GB: Obviously, wind and solar technologies. In the UK we see many more offshore wind turbines now. In Scotland, for example, 90% of electricity was produced from renewables in 2020. The cost of renewable energy from the sun and wind has dropped dramatically.
A day in which solar provides more than 100% of an entire state’s hourly electricity demand is certainly an edge case today. But the UK should strive to be a glimpse of the future; a future in which electricity is clean, green, and 100% safe.
Nuclear energy, obviously, has its own connotations and everyone has an opinion of it. Still, it’s rather safe, reasonably reliable, and efficient. I’m not talking about its disposal.
For example, Rolls Royce in the United Kingdom has come up with a small modular reactor (SMR) - a nuclear power station. 16 of these are planned for the UK. Each one costs around £2bn and produces 440MWe (enough to power a city the size of Sheffield). This technology is unique and it's scalable globally. So these are the key to replacing fossil fuels and carbon reduction.
Another area - hydrogen. It is totally clean to the environment and the only by-product (when powering vehicles from it) is water that comes out of the exhaust system. Hydrogen is potentially a much better solution for replacing the internal combustion engine than electric vehicles. They're not that environmentally friendly due to the batteries that are expensive to dispose.
Plus, the level of electricity consumption by electric vehicles is predicted to increase the current consumption upwards of 50% by 2050. The problem is that this electricity is often produced from non-renewable sources.
So more needs to be invested in hydrogen-based cars rather than electric cars.
IK: Elon Musk has promised a $100 million prize for the development of the ‘best’ technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions. What’s your opinion on this challenge?
GB: I think Elon Musk is a tech genius, but why doesn't he offer $100 million for the new green technologies that will replace the need for fossil fuels and our reliance on them?
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