Insight: Quad generation - is it time to up your carbon contribution?

Carbon can often be a dirty word in industry, but the incapacitating shortage of CO2 across the food and beverage industries this summer should provide a clarion call to all businesses who rely on it to warm up to the idea of generating and capturing their own supplies.

The unexpected shortage of CO2 impacted many food and beverage manufacturers across Europe - preventing production of everything from fizzy pop and beers (all the more worrying during World Cup celebrations) to crumpets and pork products.

It also got businesses thinking in a different way and is leading more forward-thinking manufacturers to investigate the option of producing their own carbon dioxide; both to prevent future shortages and to increase wider business resilience. That can be done through an innovative energy solution called quad-generation where heat, power, cooling and CO2 capture are all delivered by one process.

As industry across Europe aims to become more sustainable, we are beginning to help manufacturers look at ways they can make savings in their operational costs, lower their overall carbon emissions and become more resilient by generating their own carbon dioxide through a process, yet to be utilised in the UK, called quad-generation.

This innovative energy solution adds a fourth benefit of CO2 extraction to the combined heat and power (CHP) and cooling plants (tri-generation) many organisations have already invested in and provides a solution to help prevent future CO2 shortages. Through this process carbon dioxide is recovered from the plant exhaust gas and ‘scrubbed’ so it can be used in the industrial process by manufacturers to put the fizz into carbonated drinks, in packaging to keep food fresh, help the brewing fermentation process and to help plants grow in the horticultural industry.

At E.ON we work with organisations to help them become more resilient and self-sufficient, improving the efficiency of their energy use through co-generation. I’m already finding clients are thinking if they have a plant on site generating power, they know where it’s coming from and know they’re secure.

While there are yet to be any quad-generation sites on the UK mainland, some businesses are now considering generating their own CO2 as well as heat and power, to help them become more self-sufficient.

As is often the case in business, where every penny needs to be accounted for, it’s possible we’ll see quad-generation plants in Britain as early as next year. I see clients who are using more energy than they need to because they are running inefficiently and need to drive costs down. One such client was paying around £80 to £100 per ton of CO2 before the CO2 crunch, which shot prices up to £2,000 a ton. That kind of maths will get the attention of a finance director or a CEO pretty urgently.

This technology can be run just off a boiler generating heat and a primary fuel source to generate the CO2 but with the right infrastructure investment, operating costs will be reduced and capital expenditure can be offset.

The exposure of the CO2 infrastructure earlier this summer has made businesses think beyond the supply of carbon dioxide, it has made people thing ‘what would happen if I lost my power? What would happen if I lost my data?’ This is where people start to really think how secure is their business.

If a company decides it wants to take the co-generation opportunity, they don’t have to wait for the next supply chain crisis. They could have CHP, tri- or quad-generation operating by next summer. Depending on their agility, I’m sure there will be businesses saying ‘yes, let’s make our own luck.’


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Stephen Newman

Country Head Bid Management On-site Generation, UK