The Esholt site is the utility’s second largest works, treating wastewater from 750,000 customers in Bradford and Leeds. Plans are in place to turn the 120-hectare site into what is being named a “circular economy cluster”.
Heat, power, potable/sub-potable water and nutrients will be available to commercial partners on site. Imagine a ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ situation but where energy, heat, water and nutrients are brokered between site host Yorkshire Water and neighbouring companies.
One idea is to bring together the data centre, water treatment and scientific community together. A heating network could be developed which could take excess, low grade heat from a data centre located onsite. This company would receive a revenue for the heat but also have access to power and water for cooling, potentially even reclaimed water. In return, the utility would be able to use the data centre.
“We’re not a data storage business and yet we have data centres,” says Jon Brigg, manager of innovation at Yorkshire Water. “One way of this working would be we produce information from our operations which is protected securely in a data centre, right on our doorstep and in return we provide those utility service needed to run such an operation.”
The utility, like many others in the UK and worldwide, is starting to look at how insect bioconversion could be used in its wastewater processing operations. Early discussions have started with FERA Science Ltd (formerly the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) which is now part owned by Defra and part owned by Capita.
In a nutshell, an insect bioconversion process involves feeding insect larvae with organic residue – for example this could be materials from vegetal origin from food processing or agricultural production. When the grubs reach a “critical mass” and are fattened up, they’re harvested for conversion to high value products.
With up to 40% of their body mass made up of lipids, these larvae can be converted into ingredients for wellbeing products or biodiesel, whereas protein isolate from larvae can be processed into animal feed. Early work is also showing that the remaining residue has potential as an active soil nutrient. Another area currently being researched is the potential for conversion of the ‘skin’ from the larvae, which can be readily processed into a flexible, plastic material.
“This represents yet another exciting area of research in how you produce biodegradable packaging films from such a sustainably sourced material from the skin of insects,” says Dr Andrew Swift, CEO of FERA.
Many people have seen the increased availability of edible bugs and insects. Reuters recently ran a story with the headline: ‘Insect farms gear up to feed soaring global protein demand’. Swift firmly believes this is in relation to the “widening protein gap” emerging around the world, predominately in meeting animal feed demands.
“We are on the brink of seeing major organisations scale up substantially for this,” he says. “Around the world to our knowledge there are now in the region of 20 companies working on insect bioconversion commercially at various scales. Two years ago, this was less than five.”