Super-green biofuel is cleaning up the UK’s roads
Innovative science combined with practical business determination has put Argent Energy in the forefront of biodiesel production in the UK.
Scottish company Argent Energy produces a green biofuel that when blended with standard diesel can be used in buses and trucks without converting the diesel engines. It’s a practical solution with an immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
The game-changing science was carried out by Argent Energy with financial support from a number of different sources including Scottish Government and bus company Stagecoach, who invested in the young business early on.
Now new investors are enabling the sustainable biotech company to expand this successful Scottish company into other parts of the UK. Global business group Swire purchased Argent Energy in 2013 and the cash injection has led the growing business to invest £100m in a new plant in Cheshire and acquire an oil terminal at Ellesmere Port, a key link to developing their international trade.
Dickon Posnett is director of corporate affairs at Argent and has been with the company from when they built their first biodiesel plant. “We’ve been producing biodiesel since 2005 at our plant here in Scotland. We chose the Motherwell location because it was next to a rendering factory which was to provide one of our key feedstocks.
“We were the first company to use rendered animal fat (tallow) as a fuel source. The BSE crisis meant that there was a resource available that had previously gone into the food chain. It isn’t an easy source to use – it’s a ‘dirty’ feedstock that needs to be cleaned up a lot before it can be processed.
“We solved the chemistry challenges associated with cleaning up the tallow enough that we could distil diesel from it, and we also proved that the outputs were clean when the fuel was used in buses and trucks. Then, with substantial help from the Scottish Government, we built a plant to prove that our concept would work. This was a first for Scotland – and for Europe. The factory was designated as a ‘Demonstration Plant for Europe’.”
“The Motherwell plant now produces 55,000 tonnes of biodiesel per year. This, of course, is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall amount of diesel produced in the UK each year, but that’s not exactly the point. The potential for growth is huge and the need to shift towards greener diesel is an immediate reality.
“If all of the fuel we produce each year was used to fuel Scotland’s buses and trucks, it would mean a reduction of 180,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the equivalent of taking over 87,000 cars of the road – every year”
B30 – a pragmatic solution
B30 is a blended diesel made up of 30% biofuel and the rest regular diesel. This means the fuel is clean enough to be used by buses and lorries without any conversions to the engines.
Early on Argent converted four of its own trucks to run on B100 – 100% biofuel. While this is the greenest option of all, there are practical issues. It’s expensive to convert engines, low temperatures can cause problems and there is no fuel network to supply the green diesel. B30 has proved to be the ideal blend – green enough to have a significant impact on the environment and clean enough to work in conventional diesel engines without any expensive conversions.
Innovating for the future
Innovation is a way of life with Argent and with many firsts and awards already under their belts the team is committed to creating greener transport options in the UK and across the globe. Funding has been important in developing costly research and development. Scottish Enterprise provided an R&D Grant to support the installation of equipment to process High Free Fatty Acids and a separate grant for staff training.
Martin Kingsley is R&D manager at the Motherwell plant. He says, “We now have a new lab at the Motherwell plant, created in 2015, this time with help from a Scottish Enterprise Capex grant. This means we are geared up to explore new feedstocks and continue to refine and develop the processes we use. We have long-term strategies in place to enhance our R&D capabilities and will continue to expand our areas of research to produce greener sources of energy.
“Effectively we are the first company in the green investment division of the global Swire organisation. Swire is the third largest logistics company globally and has a major interest in mitigating the effectives of carbon fuels. Their investment in Argent shows their commitment to a greener future for transport across the world.”
More recently an R&D Scientist and an Environmental Assistant have been placed with Argent Energy through the Scottish Enterprise ScotGrad programme.
Feedstocks from waste
Mike Hogg is responsible for feedstock sourcing at Argent Energy. “We have already proved that we can produce a green diesel from new and challenging sources. Now we are hungry to find and increase the volumes of the new waste sources that will help the UK to recycle more waste products and run transport using greener fuel. Grease and fat trap wastes, fatty / oily food wastes as well as fatty deposits in the waste water treatment network, we’re already using a number of different sources and we are always exploring new sources and ideas in order to develop this market.
“There is no shortage of possible feedstocks but the challenge is often to gather waste products in large enough quantities and then carry out the “pre-pre-treatment” that is needed before they come to one of our plants, this is not complicated and is generally just removal of the crude water phase. In our vision of the future there will be a network of feedstock suppliers gathering and providing the right waste products.
“The growth of our business means there are serious opportunities for supply chain businesses connected with the sector.
“It’s such a green process. We are using up waste which might otherwise go to landfill or landspread, so this in itself has a positive impact on the environment. Then we are using sustainable processes to create a fuel which has a massive impact on carbon emissions. It’s a win win.”
Growing a successful energy business
Scottish Enterprise has helped the expanding business to tackle some of the challenges associated with rapid growth. Hazel Matthews is the Business Process Director. “My key task has been to integrate the three sites – the original base in Motherwell, the new plant at Stanlow in Cheshire and the oil terminal at Ellesmere Port.
“Scottish Enterprise offered an organisational review, which has been important in establishing our values and our vision for the growing business.”
What does the future hold?
The Scottish Energy Strategy’s target is for Scotland to be using 50% renewables by 2030. This is a challenging goal, way ahead of UK or European ambitions. Scotland is leading the way in this sector and it is because there is world class innovative thinking going on from companies like Argent.
Awards for Argent Energy
2010 Argent Energy awarded World Biodiesel Corporation of the Year World Refining Association
2011 Awarded Manufacturing and Processing UK winner. Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards
2012 Awarded the Green Business of the year 2012 Scottish Business Awards and most innovative green product Insider Magazine
2016 Awarded the Low Carbon Fuel Initiative of the year and Grand Prix Award for Outstanding Achievement in Low Carbon Transport by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (Low CVP)