PowerHouse technology and the world’s environmental challenges

26th Mar 2021

Whether it ends up being a virtual or hybrid event, policies and promises surrounding emissions targets and the move away from fossil fuels will be debated at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow later this year.  All eyes will be on the UK’s own goals for achieving net zero emissions providing an enormous opportunity to showcase homegrown technologies designed to tackle our environmental challenges.

These challenges are vast and range from transforming our modern infrastructure to eliminate emissions, dramatically improving air quality, and cleaning up plastic waste from our oceans.  New technologies are critical to this effort, and I’m thrilled to have joined the board of PowerHouse Energy here in the UK, which has created a scalable solution to address these problems.  With just 20% of plastic waste recycled we need homegrown solutions to clean up our own mess.  PowerHouse technology takes non-recyclable plastic, removing it from being incinerated, landfilled, or dumped in our oceans.

Plastics are not only polluting our streets and oceans but also our air.  Globally only 20% of plastic waste is recycled and one of the most popular methods of disposal for end-of-life – non-recyclable plastic – is incineration. 

One of the many effects of the very difficult past year dealing with Covid-19 has been to shine a light on the importance of air quality for health. In 2019 almost 2,000 locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland had levels of air pollution that exceeded safety limits. A horrifying new report suggests that air pollution globally could account for nearly one in five deaths.  That’s 8.7m deaths globally in 2018 alone.  The enormous death toll is higher than previous estimates and shocked even the study’s researchers, who found the impacts of air pollution to be “pervasive”. “The more we look for impacts, the more we find”, they said.

The clean energy transition is another monumental challenge.   Beyond the power sector, we need to eliminate fossil fuels from heating, transport and industry. The UK’s very ambitious and challenging net zero targets and we believe our technology can be part of the solution to both the world’s clean energy transition and problem with non-recyclable plastic.  Our recycling technology takes this non-recyclable plastic turning this into hydrogen fuel for heavy transport like buses and trucks, as well as for clean electricity to power homes.

The beauty of this technology is that it is designed to be a closed loop solution anchored in local communities that dispose of non-recyclable plastic which produces clean fuel.  In full hydrogen production mode PowerHouse technology can regenerate around ~40 tonnes per day of waste plastic which is just over a third of the plastic waste generated in Liverpool each day.  By taking this unrecyclable plastic we can generate 2 tonnes of hydrogen per day – enough fuel for 60 lorries to travel 250-300 miles or around 48MWh power per day which could power over 47,000 homes each day.

This has the added benefit of improving air quality by replacing diesel with hydrogen as a transport fuel as well as helping to accelerate the clean energy transition to reach the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2030.

Road traffic is a leading source of harmful pollutant gases, like Nitrogen dioxide, which, irritates the lungs and causes breathing difficulties. Replacing diesel with a clean fuel such as hydrogen cannot only have a positive impact on local air quality but also help accelerate the clean energy transition.

Compared to the alternative waste management options – which are quite limited – especially for end-of-life non-recyclable plastic – this is the most environmentally friendly option. Importantly, it is available now to help drive zero-emissions fuel switching in our heavy transport fleet, with potential to bring near term and material public health benefits through improvements to local air quality.

As we near closer to COP26 in November this year, the world must look to this type of technology and recognise its potential in helping solve the environmental challenges we face today and in the future.  With PowerHouse technology we can help clean up the world’s oceans now whilst helping to decarbonize transportation and bring clean fuel to communities across the world.

Author: Kirsty Gogan, Chairperson of PowerHouse Energy’s Environment Social and Governance Committee and Non-Executive Director.