Making money from low carbon

Zebec - A big appetite for waste

Anaerobic digestion (AD) plants are a growing phenomenon in Scotland - and the largest to date has been set up by a small but far-sighted biotech firm.

Glasgow-based Zebec started out as a biotech company supplying enzymes and micro-organisms to neutralise waste. But the firm spotted the potential to put its biological expertise to practical use on a big scale.

AD is a renewable energy and recycling technology. Food and other waste products are fed into digestors and broken down to create renewable energy, in the form of biogas.

"Having gained some insight on the waste market, anaerobic digestion struck us as a market opportunity, says Zebec's managing director, Martin Gorevan.

Martin was introduced to a Scottish Enterprise sustainability specialist in the field, who was able to put Zebec in touch with a wide range of contacts. "We managed to get support from Business Gateway, and later became a Scottish Enterprise account managed company with strategic, marketing, research and development support, says Martin.

A fact-finding trip to Scandinavia proved especially fruitful: "That was where we met representatives of Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), who were to become our client for our major biogas facility. It was also where I learned about the Danish technology which we ended up using for the plant.

Zebec's plan for an AD facility at Barkip, North Ayrshire, won grant support from the Scottish government via Zero Waste Scotland. The plant marks SSE's first venture into the biogas market.

Due to come online this summer, the facility will process 75,000 tonnes of food waste, organic sludge, energy crops, manure and slurries each year. The output will be 20,000 MWh of electricity.

Zebec has designed its plant to take the AD process a stage further - it will capture the heat from the process and use it to produce 8,000 tonnes of organic liquid fertiliser annually.

"The Barkip contract has been a great springboard for picking up other contracts - one to create a similar plant, and others to provide service and maintenance for existing plants, says Martin.

As a result, Zebec's turnover is set to grow from £2m to £4.5m over the next year.

At present there are six AD plants in Scotland, with more in the planning process. Despite having met some challenging regulatory issues, Martin is convinced that AD's 'virtuous cycle' makes it a huge opportunity: "It's simple to operate, and it offers the solution to all the environmental issues raised by organic waste streams.